(A.C.A.B. is an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards")
Police, past present perfect
Each country has its own story of policing, and it’s essential to know the differences. Since I grew up in the Netherlands, I will start there.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the police force (as we know it today) was created in the Netherlands. I found it even harder to define an origin. According to the government website police.nl “De Nederlandse politiegeschiedenis begint in 1581, bij de vorming van de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden.” (Dutch police history begins in 1581, with the formation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.), but I think that this is a huge overstatement. I will start this story in the 1750s. In bigger cities, the policing forces went by the names of schout (magistrate? Google translate, help me!) and their rakkers (pickles? no, that can’t be right!). These rakkers were helpers and somewhat comparable to the police agents nowadays. The schouts worked directly for the municipality and used to be more like detectives. Maintaining the public order was done by militia and the night watchman. It’s all on the official police academia website. See: painting Rembrandt van Rijn. In reality, they weren’t dressed as nicely as they were painted, and weren’t carrying guns either. The night watch was equipped with a wooden stick and a ‘klepper’. A Klepper is a rotating hammer on a wooden stick that functioned as an alarm.
They didn’t earn much. The militia was only called when needed, not regularly and had another job in everyday life. The militia consisted of regular citizens, next-door neighbours who were primarily and above all carpenters, smiths or salesmen, that worked in a shop or tavern. And no one really wanted to work the low-paid night shifts, so the night watch occupation was taken by those who otherwise couldn’t make a living. They were looked down upon. If citizens protested, for example, the army was called instead.
This changed when France came and conquered the Netherlands. The French history of policing is quite different because police already existed there. King Lodewijk the XIVth liked the army so much that he employed them everywhere. This French police shared the king’s command. They were armed with guns and horses. In 1793, the French announced war on the Dutch republic of the United Netherlands. General Napoleon gained power shortly after, and by 1810 the Netherlands belonged to France. The Dutch could apply for their police job, and some gladly did so even though the French police army wasn’t liked very much. “It was too French.” The Netherlands were free again by 1813. Prince Willem van Oranje moved back from Great Britain to the Netherlands that November and was instated as king. He obviously couldn’t keep the much-hated French policing system, even though he would have liked that very much. He changed their name. 26th of October 1814, signed the birth of the Royal Marechaussee. Their first post (police station) rose in Maastricht.
164 others followed across the south of the country before 1815. They patrolled day- and night. Horses need breaks, and these uniforms were not resistant to rain, but they were well equipped with a sabre, pistol and carbine. The Royal Marechaussee didn’t shy away from using rough force and violence against the king’s citizens that wouldn’t obey their orders. These police militias were generally employed for 6 years and never punished like ordinary citizens (they were soldiers, right?!). The north of the Netherlands had different minions of the law. This policing force had no investigative powers, did not wear a uniform and was not sworn by any oath. They very much worked just like they did before the French occupied them.
Slowly, very slowly, the order of policing changed. The Dutch government was inspired by Great Britain’s police enforcement, and they started copying their way around the 1840s/1850s; uniforms, swords, top hats and all. Schooling wasn’t needed; no issue if you hadn’t finished your primary school, and could read and write a bit.. nice, but not mandatory. You had to be big, tough and robust to join. The Dutch police were rough, and they handled the citizens even more harshly. Needless to say that they weren’t liked much.
1848, J. R. Thorbecke, a very important Dutch statesman, didn’t like them. Decent citizens knew where their responsibilities lay and would fill the state’s treasury anyway, he said. But not everyone agreed with him, and the police force grew bigger. Comparing the amounts; whereby 1815 only 52 ‘police’ were active in Amsterdam, 1844 counted 88,1856 had 23 inspectors and 96 agents, by 1877 303 and three years later Amsterdam counted 600.
In 1880, the world of Dutch citizens had changed too. Factories rose, and working conditions were unbearable. Workers protested, and this is a perfect example of what police calls; ‘disrupting public order. The police felt forced to intervene. To gain strength, national police officers and marechaussee joined their forces. The marechaussee’s horses were often deemed intimidating enough to prevent protests from happening. The tactic is still being employed to this day. A police apparatus formed around the same time. One that didn’t only bother with uprisings and misconduct, but legal knowledge, self-defence and First Aid too. And later, traffic policing was introduced, even though laws weren’t in place yet.
1901, who polices the police was raised by a liberal member of parliament H. Kist. Nothing changed much until WW1 when police training was introduced to be cancelled again only in a few years. The Amsterdam municipal police had three stations: one to combat counterfeit certificates, also known as the phoney money centre, which fought international criminals and investigated girls and women trafficking. In Rotterdam, located the smuggling of narcotics and car thefts. Amsterdam and Rotterdam were incredibly proud of those stations and their work against crime. They didn’t want to merge. Dutch police officers in training still learn about police collaboration from stories of those days.
One story goes like this: One day, somewhere around 1919, an English newspaper published an article about human trafficking. “Het ging in die dagen om de overtuiging van een levendige handel in blanke slavinnen.” (In those days it was about the conviction of a lively trade in white slave girls. [Google translate]) reads policeacademie.nl. This story is about white girls; imagine if they would have been people of colour or black. The victimized white girls’ story kept Europa busy for years and ultimately let a European force be formed with headquarters (IKPK) in Vienna. After WW2, IKPK was replaced by Interpol.
“International sex traffickers can also be empowered by poorly-thought-out prohibitionist police actions, which often involve deporting or incarcerating foreign women involved in sex work, a practice often driven by US policies.” writes Alex S. Vitale in his book The End of Policing about American policing. It is not so different from European policing.
In truth, sex workers are seldom in favour of the police, and these workers rarely see police intervention as being in their best interest. If only it’s because of the sex worker’s interest in maintaining their anonymity. Or the secrecy of/from their clients… Sure, in that case, the police would understand? Sadly, no, the police often see sex workers as offenders rather than victims. They fail to take the worker’s request for help seriously, regardless of whether sex work is voluntary or coerced.
* It’s broken Dutch, but it roughly translates: For anyone who demonstrates against slavery and racism: 1. First learn the history of the country you live in. Not only the part you think is important but everything. 2. Realize the times you live in…..thus the NOW or do you really live in the past? 3. You are against racism and slavery? Fine no problem with that…..are you also going to do something about slavery nowadays in which WHITE girls are misused as sex slaves? 4. You want the statues from your streets gone because it bothers you? Jeez, why did you come to the Netherlands where you have all chance? 5. You think that I should respect you, because of the colour of your skin, your religion, your beliefs and values….CAN I ASK YOU WHERE YOUR RESPECT FOR MY COUNTRY, MY CULTURE, MY BELIEFS AND MY VALUES?
Before we address how police worldwide have been implicated in running, demolishing and providing protection for brothels, assaulting sex workers, border control and deporting or incarcerating foreign women let us go back to the Netherlands. The reality is that no amount of police (intervention) will ever eradicate crime. The police force in the Netherlands consisted of 20.000 men during WW2. [source] Their distribution of police agents shifted after the war and it was cleansed, and reformed again and again until 1994; the KLPD (National Police Force) is formed. The Netherlands is not a police state and even though the army, Marechaussee and Justice system have to answer to the same government, they’ll stay somewhat separate.
From the 1960s onward the Dutch police are most afraid of drugs traffic, terrorism and (integration of) immigrants, often with an Islamic background.2
Living today means,
2020, The Dutch police consists of ten regional units, the National Unit and the Police Services Center. It counts approximately 50,400 officers. [source] That means 295 police officers per 100,000 people, one officer for 339 people. There’s quite a lot of blue on the Dutch streets. Their basic tasks are wide in range; daily surveillance (making sure no one sprays graffiti and watching young people leave the bars at holiday locations in the summer3), warning others and tipping them off, helping (Domestic violence? Abuse? Fire in a private house? The police helps.4), enforcement (addressing noise disturbance), everything that has to do with traffic, and research. The police have ‘special’ tasks too. Police investigations (done by the Dienst Landelijke Recherche (DLR)) look into matters of human trafficking, the creation and sales of drugs, terrorism and online crime. The Dienst Landelijke Informatieorganisatie (DLIO) deals with information and data, they work often together with Europol and Interpol. The Dienst Speciale Interventies (DSI) is the police and the army combined, who tackle life-threatening situations. The Dienst Koninklijke en Diplomatieke Beveiliging (DKDB) makes sure that the king, princesses, and sometimes mayors, councillors and judges are safe and secure from threats. The Dienst Infrastructuur (Dinfra) consists of the railway-, traffic-, aviation- and water police. The Dienst Landelijke Operationele Samenwerking (DLOS) makes sure that they all work together, and the Dienst Landelijk Operationeel Centrum (DLOC) guides them all.
A Dutch police agent on the street carries pepper spray, a PVC baton, a gun (Walther, P99Q NL), handcuffs, teargas, a flashlight, a portable phone, latex gloves and special units carry in addition to the gun, a semi-automatic machine gun too.
What would you do?
Again I quote a scenario depicted in a school presentation distributed for children by the Dutch police.
“Emergency line, 112, do you want to speak with police, fire brigade or ambulance?” A man sounds uncontrollably: “police! “.
The operator answering the phone wants to know what exactly is going on.
“I see a gun, a boy is holding a gun! I am in the city and I see four boys, now. I do not know whether they have guns too. This is scary.”
Imagine that you are a police agent receiving a notification from the emergency room—four boys armed. You take your bullet-free vest and drive to the scene. A few minutes later, you and your colleagues arrive. Four suspects aged around 16 are standing in a public square. One of the kids has blood on his forehead. Then what?
(here, there’s no indication whatsoever about the way the boys look, nor your knowledge of what they are supposed to look like. Other than the location, you know nothing. This text doesn’t give any sign of a gun visible at this point.)
A) They are only children. I tiptoe towards them, trying to chat and connect with them.
B) I pull out my gun and yell, “Police! With every suspicious move, I shoot”.
C) Blood? I take my first aid kit, and I run to the victim to help him.
The correct answer is B. The officer must pull out their gun and yell, “Police! With every suspicious move, I shoot”.
There are no suspicious movements. You arrest the boys. They are searched, one by one. On one boy, you’ll find a gun, and on another, you’ll find a bag of white powder.
(I imagine you, police, immediately notice if the gun is a real- or toy gun. If I can tell the difference, so should you.) What should you do next?
A) You give the boys a fine.
B) This is really bad. The boys must be detained, and you take them to the police station. We can take a look at the gun and drugs. (white powder)
C) I call my colleague. She secures the gun and checks if it is a real one.
The correct answer is, again, B.
It is a toy gun that shoots rubber balls. This could have ended badly. What are you going to do now?
A) I talk to the boys. How did they get this weapon?
B) Oh, if the gun is fake, the boys can just go. Only real weapons are prohibited.
The correct answer is A. Police officers talk to the boys. As it turns out, the blood and drugs were fake too. They were filming a school project. The agents take the toy gun into custody. It looked real from a distance, and that too is prohibited from use in the Netherlands. The parents and school are called. The boys get away with a warning.
If you still want to work for the police in the Netherlands today, you’ll need to get some schooling. It will take you 1,5 years of police academy and internships to become a surveillant, an agent-to-be needs 2 years and 4 months, and to become head agent, it takes you 8 months longer. You’ll need to go back to a training institute 4 times a year, so you be frequently trained while on the job too. Other opportunities to expand your police career involve more study courses in your private time. It is safe to say that every police agent must have had some form of diversity training. Still, you can ask yourself how much impact this has on racial disparities in traffic stops or scenarios, as sketched above. How many implicit and explicit biases remain, even after targeted and intensive training? I don’t accuse officers of being intentionally racist; although this can be true, I doubt the training work because institutional pressures remain intact.
Diversifying the workplace is often seen as another ‘solution’ to the problem of racial profiling, but even the most diverse forces have major problems with it. In America, for example, “…individual black and Latino officers appear to perform very much like their white counterparts.” notes Vitale on page 17 of The End of Policing. And the Dutch Employee Monitor (2016) showed that half of all agents who describe themselves as ‘immigrants’ experience discrimination at work, which often causes them to quit their job. I guess that racial profiling and excessive use of force are often done by a small group of officers, who tend to be male, young and working in high-crime areas. They may find themselves in a culture of machismo that rewards this aggressive policing, formally ánd informally. The police have a special status that comes with the special power of being the sole legitimate users of force, and this too adds to the mindset of “them against us”. The institution’s ultimate purpose of the police has always been that of managing the poor and non-white, rather than generating equity and fair play.
“There’s No Justice; There’s Just Us”Reni Eddo-Lodge, title of the last chapter of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017)
💉 💊 ⛄ 🌿 🍬 🍺 🍹 🚬
Now imagine that the white powder from our example story was indeed real drugs. The Opium Act prohibits the possession, trade, sale, transportation, manufacture, etc., of the substances covered by the law. Use by itself is not a criminal offence. The Opium Act consists of two lists in the Netherlands. The first describes hard drugs—cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamine, LSD, and heroin. The second depicts soft drugs; hash, weed and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Typically, possession of hard drugs and soft drugs for personal use is not a legitimate reason for prosecution. If the boy carried less than 5 grams of soft drugs (hash or weed) and/or a maximum of 0,5 grams of hard drugs (cocaine, speed etc.), 1 XTC pill and 5 ml GHB or less, the Dutch police could have taken it, he wouldn’t be fined. His name would be logged, but he wouldn’t get a criminal record. Decriminalization doesn’t increase drug use.
Drug use is a problem of health rather than criminal justice. I’d argue that it would be better to legalize it all and then regulate the purity of the drug’s potency. Drugs are associated with criminals, gangs and ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. A common thought of many Dutchies is to stop and wonder why a Caribbean or Moroccan- looking boy wears expensive clothing brands or drives a flashy car… we punish and search and him instead of his white friends. He’s stopped by the police.
18 June 2020, Dutch police officers use their guns 0,029 times a year on average. Some never use their weapons during their career, whereas others use them twice a year or more. They used it today. A disturbed man walked around in Eindhoven (NL) with a large knife. He allegedly threatened bypassers. A cop felt so threatened that he shot the man in the leg. The man stood on his own, on a large square. He stood still and slowly turned around after warning shots. He didn’t let go of his knife, thus shooting him was allowed. A shot in the leg can be perilous, deadly even. The officers weren’t even near a life-threatening situation at the shooting time; the distance was too big.
All anomalies, especially the mentally ill, are often seen as a dangerous source of disorder controlled by aggressive policing. Yelling a command and/or displaying weapons often escalate and destabilize encounters and cause a (mentally ill) person to flee or become more aggressive. However, it still is the standard police approach. Even alternative methods to the command-and-control practice might be problematic when encountering someone with a psychotic episode or delusion or someone who otherwise cannot understand, hear or comply with the police. How can you expect a patrol officer to make a meaningful clinical assessment of a patient in the field? How would you respond?
We can’t expect an officer who’s trained to use aggressive methods to establish their authority to turn it off as quickly. Luckily, in most places in Europe, Brittain, Canada and Australia, the standard approach is a crisis response that includes mental health workers, and police only assisting when necessary. This method works for crises, but what about other public disorders? Regarding minor violations like public drinking, public urinating, and sleeping in parks, tubes, trains or sidewalks, what should be done by the police?
Intoxication, mental illness and homelessness in themselves are not criminal. Police were always expected to provide care for the most impoverished population, primarily to reduce their impact on others. Warnings and ticketing do nothing to improve the situation of a person that is sleeping rough. Neither does banishment. This is even harder when writing about ‘offences to the moral order’. We are all aware of the horrors of international human trafficking, but criminalizing all sex work is ineffective. The “white slave” narrative is the form of a policing era that emphasized restoring morality to the cities, “which had been “polluted” by the massive influx of eastern and southern European immigrants”, writes Vitale.
–> “The culture of the police must be changed so that it is no longer obsessed to control the poor and socially marginal. That said, there is a larger truth that must be confronted. As long as the basic mission of the police remains unchanged, none of these reforms will be achievable. There is no technocratic fix.” this is the final conclusion of The End of Policing.
Community policing, more CCTV, body cameras and better training are not the right ‘fix’, it only expands the reach of the police into communities and private lives. We don’t have to put up with aggressive and intrusive policing to keep us safe. The book titled The End of Policing describes some interesting alternatives. If you’d like a better description of how policing works, especially in America, I highly recommend you read this book.
Extraordinary Investigation, Officer
Besides police officers, the Netherlands counts about 23,700 ‘peace officers’. They work at approximately 1,100 different agencies. 3900 of them are municipal enforcers, 2450 environmental boas (green and grey), 850 school attendance officers, 4800 public transport boas, 700 social investigators and 10,800 generic detection boas.15 These officers have a Special Enforcement Officer (SEO) status (Buitengewoon Opsporingsambtenaar) or BOA/Handhaving in Dutch. Therefore they have some police powers (detaining suspects, asking for identification, making an arrest, issuing fines within their power of offences and use of force). The majority of BOA officers carry and use handcuffs. A few of them carry police batons, pepper spray and occasionally firearms too, but only with permission from the Ministry of Safety and Justice. [source] Being a BOA doesn’t mean that you’re employed by the police or marechaussee, they have their own supervisors. To become one all you have to do is a 6-month course, which means 4 hours of study a week and it doesn’t cost much! Everyone can do it! You’ll be paid € 2.910 a month.[source]
BOAs are intimidating and often aggressive. On many occasions, I saw them using extensive force to detain citizens. I frequently watched them monitor train stations, occasionally frightening travellers, constantly questioning, searching them and even pushing them to the ground. BOAs pace in groups. They walk with significant steps, their breasts forwards and their voices loud. BOAs are often white men with the small-penis syndrome. (Probably not all of them, but those SPS BOAs are the ones that made themselves most visible to me.) Their targets seem to be primarily men of colour. In my experience, BOA’s are not friendly. Although I only have secondary sources and secondary experiences.
I am a white woman and not classified as potentially dangerous by any king of law-keeper. One day a BOA sat next to me on the tram in Rotterdam. He didn’t leave much space for me to sit. His manscaping legs are positioned so vastly. I saw him in action shortly after a fellow unknown traveller entered the tram. This traveller, a young black man aged around 17, tried to check in with his public transport card, but it failed, and he couldn’t hop off directly. The doors of a tram close pretty fast. The traveller tried to get off at the next stop. I write tried-as in attempted to because there wasn’t any time. The BOA next to me jumped on him, and 4 others appeared out of nowhere. It was as if they multiplied that instant. The traveller was brought to the floor… His hands were behind his back. He was forced and pushed down by those 5 men. A tin can filled with thyme or some other kind of herbs rolled on the floor towards me. Still wrapped in plastic, I picked it up while filming the whole thing. It looked like he’d just bought it. The BOAs shouted at him, demanding an explanation. He explained that he didn’t know that his public transport card hadn’t had enough credit on it. He tried to explain that he wanted to get off. To get them off of him. The formally manscaping BOA held his knee on his neck, and the traveller’s voice was soft. “What the fuck…” I yelled loudly at the BOA and “let him go”, slightly weaker. Other travellers began to interfere. They told me to stop filming. I stopped filming, and handed the traveller his herbs back, he thanked me, and I wanted to say something more.
Other travellers and a BOA moved towards me as I quickly slipped out of the tram in shock. The rain was pouring and the thunder trembling, and I was so angry. Shaking in disbelief, I walked after the tram tracks towards home. I made contact with the police and public transport and shared the video as soon as I got there. See the image for their only response back to me. And then again, this is not my story. I’m actually not even sure if I should be the one writing this. I’ve been privileged enough not to have had such an experience firsthand, and this is merely one example. A.C.A.B.
[translate: Thank you for your comment, you must understand that we’ll never respond based on the content exactly because of privacy reasons. We do take it seriously though.]
..one of the many cases of extensive, unnecessary violence. Luckily I have never been on the other side (of the camera). This is just one example of the many I have witnessed in The Netherlands.
12 May 2017, BOAs abused my partner. He gave me consent to write his story of that night [but I deleted it from my blog on the 14th of June 2021].
I think it is a good start to processing the information.
2 “Vanaf het eind van de jaren zestig leken de zaken alleen nog maar sneller te gaan. Drugshandel stuwde de criminaliteit tot grote hoogte en het gevoel van onveiligheid bij de burger nam toe. Terrorisme in een aantal zeer verschillende verschijningsvormen moest ook worden bestreden. De integratie van allochtonen, veelal met een islamitische achtergrond, bleek moeizaam te gaan, wat weer tot onbehagen leidde. Al met al zijn dit uitdagingen die, in de geschiedenis van de Nederlandse politie, zijn weerga niet kennen.” https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/50Terugblikentoekomst
3 Agent Richard: “Nu is het nog rustig in Renesse. Maar we blijven opletten. Deze zeven kroegen staan allemaal bij elkaar. Gaan ze dicht om 03:00 uur? Dan staan er zomaar 4.000 jongeren op straat.” https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf
4 Huiselijk geweld? Mishandeling? Brand in een woonhuis? De politie helpt. https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf