EXPRESSEN Wednesday 12 september 1973
The bank robbery at Kreditbanken held the government, police leadership, media personnel, and TV viewers in suspense for a week. I spent this entire week as a psychiatric advisor to the operational police leadership and feel compelled to address some of the criticism directed at me and the police leadership in the press and broadcast media, both during and after the operation's execution.
During the latter half of the drama, I received calls from several uninformed psychologists and psychiatrists who stated that, in their opinion, all signs pointed to the situation ending in a bloodbath, suggesting that the robber, in his trapped and desperate position, would likely shoot either the hostages or both the hostages and himself. I was informed that I had a moral obligation to persuade the police leadership to halt the operation and convince the government to reverse its decision of not allowing the perpetrator to leave the bank with the hostages. On TV, associate professor Gustav Jonsson advocated for the same approach, and a petition from nine criminology professors at Stockholm University further emphasized these demands. Despite all the pressures, the operation was carried out as planned. Why? For a myriad of reasons. Here, I can only provide a concise summary of some of the most crucial components in the complex tapestry upon which the strategy was based.
Nearly killed a police officer
1) The robber fired his submachine gun in the initial stages and came very close to killing a police officer.
CONCLUSION: The man was lethal to police personnel who confronted him in a battle inside the bank or in the subsequent pursuit of him, the money, and the hostages.
A few days later, another police officer was shot, and in this case too, it was only by chance that it didn't end in the murder of a policeman. However, after an agreement with the robber, two unarmed police officers could enter the bank hall and talk to the robber up close. It became clear that the man was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was not psychotic ("mentally ill"). He was well above average intelligence, decisive, had the situation in the bank hall under control, and acted entirely rationally based on his criminal intentions. Had he been psychotic, it would have been much more challenging to predict his actions and responses.
Bold and ambitious.
2) The robber, as is known, demanded three million kronor, the release of Clark Olofsson (who had six years left on an internment sentence and had made a failed escape attempt using explosives on a prison door a few weeks prior), two pistols, and safe passage with the hostages and Olofsson.
CONCLUSION: We were dealing with a clear-thinking, daring, and ambitious career criminal who was expected to act purposefully according to a generally normal psychological response pattern: He would not undertake anything that he did not expect to have direct or indirect benefit from.
3) The government quickly made two decisions: A) They agreed that Olofsson - if he so desired - could be used by the police in talks with the robber; B) The robber was not allowed to leave the bank with the hostages. Otherwise, the police leadership had free rein.
Decision B) was of great principled importance. If the government had accepted that the robber could disappear with three million kronor and his hostages, we could have expected an international chain reaction of similar criminal activity, much like what had happened with airplane hijackings. Not only our country but the entire Western world would have been put in a challenging psychological position against professional crime and gangsterism. It's unthinkable that a government in any of the socialist countries would have succumbed to a demand of this type and made short-term concessions.
4) During conversations with Olofsson, it was evident that he was very composed. Our in-depth knowledge of him assured us that he wouldn't undertake any desperate actions and that he wasn't willing to take life-threatening risks. Therefore, he was allowed access to the robber even though, at this stage, we couldn't secure the release of the hostages in exchange, as the government had intended.
CONCLUSION: Besides the perpetrator consistently behaving rationally in line with his objectives, we now had an intelligent man with a strong will to live and, given the circumstances, rational thinking alongside the robber and hostages.
The outcome was inevitable.
5) The outcome of the drama was, at this point, a foregone conclusion. Only a misstep from either side would prevent a bloodless resolution. From the early stages, the police leadership had requested a psychological-psychiatric assessment of the risk that the robber would harm the hostages in a continued standoff at the bank. I estimated this risk to be around 2-3 percent under unfavorable conditions, meaning if the operation was forced too quickly and the robber was not given enough time to realize he was defeated. With a prolonged process and well-chosen, calibrated pressure, I believed the continued action was virtually risk-free for the hostages. It was also evident to those in the know that the risk to the hostages would significantly increase if they were allowed to leave with the robber, no matter where or how far the journey would have taken them.
6) In addition to what has been detailed above, the robber acted in many ways as we expected from the early stages: He shot at police officers when he had the chance, carried out demonstrative explosions in the bank hall and ventilation system using the explosives he had previously shown a sample of, and he kept his promise not to shoot those delivering food and drink, understanding that he wouldn't receive any provisions otherwise. As anticipated, he put up a lengthy, fierce, and skillful resistance.
Only two psychologically unforeseen events occurred:
A) The arrangement to hang the hostages in connection with the first gas attack came as a complete surprise. Through eavesdropping, I was able to determine that the nooses were perceived by the hostages as a direct threat to their lives, and the operation was immediately postponed. Almost no one, either outside or inside the vault doors, had had a proper sleep in three days, and there was a certain risk of tactical missteps on either side if all parties didn't get some rest. According to the pattern the robber was following, the hanging was yet another severe threat but, in my interpretation, not intended to harm the hostages. The robber proved to be a bit more cunning than we were on the outside. A much-needed twelve-hour ceasefire ensued.
B) The second psychological miscalculation was that we expected the robber, during the final breach into the vault, to fire all his ammunition through the inner cash vault door or in the door gap before surrendering. However, it seems he was so affected by the tear gas and determined in the final assault that he chose to surrender a few seconds earlier than anticipated.
It's astonishing that critics, who claim to best understand criminals and their behavioral patterns, and who persistently argued that we should have released the robber with the hostages and money, apparently do not credit these criminals with the capacity for rational and sensible thinking under the given circumstances.
In hindsight, some have even claimed that it was purely "luck" that everything turned out well. Those of us who have worked with criminals on a daily basis for decades, and who are now accused of viewing them as crazed beasts, know that they behave rationally in the situations they find themselves in. They are a kind of players, gamblers, and they are very skilled at their game; otherwise, they would never have become career criminals.
As a slightly political aside, I can finally mention that the government would have found itself in an almost untenable position if I had gathered all the so-called progressive critics for a consultation and allowed the government to be confronted with the demand for safe passage. Even if I had dissented myself, the government would hardly have been able to resist the combined "expertise". Releasing the robber on his terms would have been close to a political suicide for the government just two weeks before the elections.