Posse comitatus

(from the Latin for “power of the county”)

Going back in history we learn that policing systems were community-based and implied collective responsibility. Where did this change? The complete story of policing; where, when and how the police system is formed is way too big to summarize or unfold with the little research that I have done so far. Police cultures are a subject of criticism, but most of us (me, myself) might be too quick to judge. Is my criticism justified? Because I don’t know what constitutes police culture. Is that what we read in academic literature and see on tv shows still a reflection of the same attitudes, behaviours and values that we witness in the police service today? Is this view burned into our collective memory that it supersedes all -structural, political, social, technological and economic- changes to policing and all changes to society too? From the American TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Psych, iZombie, Castle, 21 Jump Street to UK’s Broadchurch, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Vera, Marcella the Dutch Baantjer and Scandinavian The Bridge and Forbrydelsen (The Killing) just to name a few… other stories written by John Grisham, Karin Slaughter, Harlan Coben and those about Sherlock Holmes to the writings of Agatha Christie (according to some counts, the best-selling novelist of all time); I wonder what really changed.

Fictional stories that are based on our perception of the policing society are in abundance. Thus, I will only point out some non-fictional (historical) events, but leave many more out. There have been many transitional periods and the break between ‘old’ and ‘new’ is always incomplete. As for “Crime, as an abstract concept, was rarely discussed and the criminal, though a problem, was seen as a naturally sinful figure but not one that posed a major threat to the stability of society.”1 David Taylor, an English historian, wrote in 1998. Crime and criminality are huge concepts, even today, and are submitted to religious, socioeconomic and political processes rooted in morality. It is not always clear that a criminal act is immoral and not all immoral acts are criminal. Acknowledging that crime is -far from being absolute and moral- both a relative concept and a social and political construct, varying with time and place, I start this brief history in medieval England.

All adult men, who had substantially more influence than other groups -women, the poor- were bound together by mutual responsibility to keep the peace and protect their community. This system was called Frankpledge and can be traced back to the laws of King Canute II the Great of Denmark and England (d. 1035). He declared that every man must be part of a hundred, a local unit of government, to put up a guarantee in money for his good behaviour. So, they have grouped tithings headed by a tithingman. Each tithing, in turn, was grouped into a hundred, which was headed by a hundred-man who served as both administrator and judge. Each hundred was grouped into a shire, which was supervised by a shire-reeve.2 This is where the role of county sheriff comes from this name still exists in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United States. 

After England’s conquest by the Normans, a constable was added to the policing system.  This old French word stood for a designated person holding a public office, first and evolved to defining a person exercising a higher form of authority (connétable), its meaning continued to change in England though.

By the 13th century, however, only the unfree and landless men were bound to serve, since a freeholder’s land was sufficient pledge. This Frankpledge system seems not to have been imposed in every part of England though and began to decline in the 14th century. The “watch-and-ward” system in place -the (night) watch- primarily guarded the city gates and their duties later expanded to include lighting street lamps, calling time, watching for fires, and reporting other conditions. Yet, despite the addition of constables, the investigation and prosecution of crimes remained a private matter to be handled by the victims.3 It was everyone’s duty to maintain the king’s peace, and any citizen could arrest an offender.

1361, The Justice of the Peace Act began the process of centralizing the administration of justice in England. A magistrate is appointed on behalf of the crown to deal mostly with minor criminal matters.“Thieftakers” or “common informers” were bounty hunters that recovered stolen property and offered rewards for its return, as, at the time, constables and justices either were not paid at all or earned very little. This fee-based system was subject to abuse by *criminal networks ánd the system was corrupt, especially in the cities.

*Perhaps the most well-known story of exploitation of this fee-based system is the story of Jonathan Wild (c. 1682–1725). He organized the London underworld and systematically arranged to have goods stolen so that he could sell them back to the original owners. If a thief wished to remain independent of Wild’s crime ring he/she was brought to the authorities and sooner or later, hanged. Jonathan Wild’s reign as the “thief-taker general” lasted approximately seven-year. He too ended up at the end of a rope.

1682, the Edinburgh Town Guard was formed to implement and enforce a curfew, to be abandoned in 1817. Glasgow followed roughly a hundred years later with its own policing force. I read that there had been earlier attempts to establish professional police bodies in other cities, but most faded soon after they were implemented. 

1750, brothers Henry and John Fielding, both served as magistrates at Bow Street Court in London. To respond to the high level of crime in London, they decided to create a paid force. The organization was known as the Bow Street Runners.  However, there was no popular or governmental support for the creation of a white-collar, professional police force throughout England at that time.

1786, English politicians instituted a standing police force in Ireland, in response to serious challenges to English rule, namely The Dublin Police Act. It consisted of 40 horse police and 400 constables. The creation of the force encountered great resistance because it was perceived to be patterned after the French Gendarmerie Nationale, which it was. The Dublin police force was reformed in 1795 and 1808, but the English were held back to implement it at their own Island. 

1796, the Scottish economist Patrick Colquhoun (who’s considered the architect of modern policing) wrote A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, in which he applied business principles to police administration. And later A Treatise on the Functions and Duties of a Constable. 

1790, London’s Thames maritime traffic was huge at this time. Workers in manufacturing and production houses at the Isle of Dogs were lucky if they were paid any wages, which meant that they had to ‘steal’ small quantities of stock from their employers to keep ongoing. This was rather customary back then. Whether it was warehouse labourers drinking the rum maturing in the storehouses, a printer retaining a copy of every book he assembled, or shipbuilders taking leftover timber for their own use, it was not unlike how a contemporary retail worker might be given a discount on clothing to wear during her shift, or a café waiter given excess pastries at the end of the day. Or a few pints of beer, like I always got after working a shift in a bar. And perhaps some start-up employees get to own a share of the company as part of their salary. Merchants on the other hand mostly saw it as theft. They wanted wage workers that were paid for their time and nothing more. Until that point, London had no police force. There was no professional body of officers under state control and the constables and night watchmen that existed in various areas were unprofessional, underpaid and corrupt. John Harriott was a farmer, businessman and magistrate who came up with a plan for a professional police force. Other police forces had never really worked out before.4 

1798, The Marine Police Office opened as a kind of pilot program, an experiment. Here, officers were paid and uniformed at the wet docks, here they supervised the workers, kept an eye on ships and cargo, enforced working hours, paid wages and brought misbehaving workers to the magistrate. It was successful and Westminster (a London Borough, casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally) was convinced to support the project. And the Marine Police Office came under state authority in 1800, now funded by the public. Colquhoun wrote a lot about this experiment on the River Thames. He wanted to spread his vision of policing, which was deeply bound to economics around the world. His model of surveillance, the spectacle of force and social control offered an economical and effective way of maintaining order. This was to be achieved by a moral transformation that involved the criminalization of idleness and a revision of the sense of injustice that made workers feel entitled to a decent share of the fruits of their labour. Defending the rich against the poor in the pursuit of order and faith in the state to protect people from the threat of disorder. Its role is to create crime (by defining its means) while also preventing it. The Marine Police Office was important.

1829, Sir Robert Peel, a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and twice as Home Secretary established the Metropolitan Police. He’s seen as the father of modern British policing. His “Bobbies” patrolled the streets of London as he tried to preserve social order during his time in the colonial occupation of Ireland. This model was deemed to be useful in the newly formed United States of America too, where immigration and industrialization caused social and political disorder and confusion. American elites and their capitalism relied on slavery and needed clearance of the land by its (original) inhabitants. For more background on the American story, I’d like to refer to text written by Alex Vitale and his book The End of Policing. New York and London: Verso. 2017.

(Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images) https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/the-rise-of-the-great-british-bobby-a-brief-history-of-britains-police-service/

1835, The Municipal Corporations Act required the establishment of a police force under the control of a watch committee.

1856, Parliament officially passed the County and Borough Police Act. The uniformed new police force was dressed first in black jackets and tall wool hats with shiny badges and later in blue rather than the military red, but still a centralized, quasi-military hierarchy. The authority of the police shouldn’t derive from politicians but from the crown, the law, and the consent of the citizenry—Sir Robert Peel aimed to distinguish the English police from the military to get the foundation of policing by respect. And should not be armed with firearms. In London, the policemen were identified with the politician who created them that they were referred to as “Peelers” or—as I did earlier—“Bobbies,” after the popular nickname for Robert.5

Every person in a county shall be ready and apparelled at the command of the sheriff and at the cry of the country to arrest a felon whether within a franchise or without, and in default shall on conviction be liable to a fine, and if default be found in the lord of the franchise he shall forfeit the franchise to the Queen, and if in the bailiff he shall be liable besides the fine to imprisonment for not more than one year, or if he have not whereof to pay the fine, than two years.

section 8, Sheriffs Act 1887 (as passed)

This law called posse comitatus, which translates Latin to English “power to the country” originated in the ninth-century in England. It is generally obsolete throughout the world, it remains somehow, part of the United States legal system. Posse comitatus permits the sheriff of a county to call every civilian to his assistance to catch a person who had committed a felony—that is, a serious crime. Fining those who did not comply. The provisions for posse comitatus were repealed by the Criminal Law Act 19676 states Wikipedia. It provided for the sheriff to take “the power of the county” if he faced any resistance while executing a writ, or warrant and provided for the arrest of resistors as well. This part is still in force. It allows a sheriff to call upon the police while seizing the property. 

The so-called ‘new-police’ force was completed and detectives and inspectors were added. “Problems begin with definition. Paid policing did not begin in 1829.”7 wrote David Taylor. Intention does not always guarantee outcome. “[T]he new police were only responsible to the community in the most generalized and vague manner.” The newness of the new police settled, and they endured, in effectively acting as agents of the ruling elite, re-acting on their behalf. As stand-in’s or proxies they enforce their codes of behaviour and responsibilities to them. Peel was most certainly aware of the function of Police as both bringer of “order and decorum to the streets of London as well as to fight crime.”8 And I’d not prefer privately- over publicly paid forces, so I agree with the establishment as a public service.

“Position of the law through the police in the 19th century wasn’t about the protection of property in person but about the regulation of efficient order and the protection from radical change.” says Lewis Waller in his video called “The Fist of Modernity” on his YouTube channel dedicated to short historical and political video essays “Than & Now”. The term ‘move along’ became the most common thing an officer would say. According to Taylor, the second quarter of the 19th century had “[t]he middle classes soon appreciated the benefits of the new police. They were the most direct beneficiaries of police actions that curtailed political disturbances and reduced the level of street crime. Working-class attitudes were less clear-cut. For the politically active, admittedly a small number, there were obvious grounds for concern. Meetings of working-class radicals were kept under surveillance and infiltrated by police spies who posed a real threat to constitutional liberties.”9

There were continuing attempts to transform the streets of London, while hostility to the police was a part of both urban and rural life. Policemen saw the control of public space as fundamental. Anti-police riots and fights between police and soldiers were not that uncommon. The second quarter of the 19th century constructed the start of ‘new’ policing, but it was only in the second half of this century that a ‘professional’ force was created.

In 1869, the introduction -and later the improvement- of the criminal record system with the use of photography and fingerprinting in 1902.10 By 1903 the English police had two police cars. Six years later they began using bicycles. The number of policemen increased from about 20 500 in 1861 to 54 300 by 1911.11 But “[b]ecoming a policeman was one way of effecting a move to a town, a temporary phase, a bridge to a better job.” and almost always taken by unmarried men in their mid-twenties. For quite some time, “unlike other working-class groups, a policeman’s wife was not allowed to take employment on her own behalf, which permanently limited the couple’s income. The fear was that a policeman’s working wife might be tempted to use influence or be put under pressure because of her husband’s job. Police officers were meant to appear as members of the ‘respectable working class’ (even if their pay was so much lower), and the wives of such men did not work. The first women police officers were recruited during the First World War.” wrote Clive Emsley, the author of The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present (Quercus, 2009). But “in 1922 the Home Secretary, Sir Edward Shortt, proposed the complete abolition of the women’s section of the Metropolitan Police. His insistence that the work of the women police was ‘welfare work … not police work proper’, and that they only kept down crime ‘with the sense in which the schoolmaster keeps down crime, and the clergyman and the Sunday-school teacher’”12 he wrote 18 years earlier (Routledge, 1991, 1996).

Honestly, the most important duty of the police officer was (intensive) patrolling. Civilians had to know that there’s always police nearby. Always someone on the watch. Towards the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries, notably in parts of London’s East End, the Jews were not ‘criminal’ as the Irish had been, but seemed to take the interest of the police just as much. Anti-semitism and racism have always played a part of the police, possibly originating from a superiority on the part of white Britons as creators of an empire. But overall, the police were close to its community and they had become the beloved ‘bobby’. Constables in uniform would walk down the street, observing and being observed by the general public. This changed when they ceased to be part of society and became part of traffic, it changed when they arrived after the fact. This change correlates directly with the rise of crime around that time. The numbers of police officers increased again and again and they were lavished with cash and their tools improved. The number of separate forces went down instead in the name of rationalisation to increase efficiency. 

“In addition to the Metropolitan Police Training School at Peel House, eight district training schools were established in the aftermath of the war to provide a uniform instructional grounding for all recruits.”13 But in the two decades following the Second World War finding recruits was hard. Thus, a fictional English Bobby character was created that went by the name of PC George Dixon. “Dixon first appeared in a feature film, The Blue Lamp, made with the co-operation of Scotland Yard and premiered in 1950.”14 They try to be more convincing with their shiny toys like; (advanced) computers, high tech equipment, better uniforms, helicopters, expensive vehicles and CCTV and so on. If the police officers, Bobbies, were respected citizens in uniform watching out over other citizens just as the character of Dixon -and other on TV characters- which are used as a benchmark against which the behaviour of police is to be measured; why did this need to change if it was so good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour? Why has there been no backlash to this ‘new’ style of policing? ~complete faith in technology perhaps? The result was that everything took more time and more people power. Yes, you read it right. Technology made policing less efficient, even though it promised more order and less idleness.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35220929

Some other events in British police culture: 

1915, Edith Smith was appointed the first woman police constable in England with the full power of arrest. Her duties were to deal with cases where women were involved, mostly prostitution. She was paid 28 shillings (£1.40 a week), raised to £2 10 shillings (£2.50 a week). 26 June 1923, she overdosed on morphia, taking her own life, five years after leaving the force. 1937, the 999 emergency number was created.15 

1946, Police Act 1946 passed. This abolished nearly all non-county borough police forces in England and Wales. This left 117 police forces.16 

1967, Norwell Roberts became the first black police officer in modern Britain. 

1978–1982, at a total cost of £3 million Operation Countryman was an investigation into police corruption in London. Eight police officers were prosecuted, though none were convicted. 

1984, the time spent at a police station increased after the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). The 1981 Brixton riots and the Scarman report led to the passage of this Act. [see: Protest!] Its purpose was to unify police powers under one code of practice and to balance carefully the rights of the individual against the powers of the police. -I am not necessarily saying this is bad, but it is some bureaucratic shit placed on top of old-fashioned policing. Waiting for (other) police units after making an arrest, booking in, waiting, more waiting, papers, more papers, logging, waiting, searching, evaluating, monitoring… but still, the prison population only grows. There are  currently 150 prisons in the UK, if I counted correctly. England and Wales count a prison population of 83,329 people in 2020.17 Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) is in charge of managing the public prisons, while private companies (including G4S and Serco) run several prisons for the day to day basis since the 1990s too.

HMP Cardiff – 4.1 stars, 16 reviews

HMP Birmingham – 2.1 stars, 14 reviews

(https://www.gosocial.co/the-top-15-prisons-in-the-uk-as-voted-for-by-ex-inmates/) back when Google allowed reviews of prisons 😂

“We can’t fight racism while embracing homophobia, any more than we can fight mass incarceration by embracing a politics of punishment”


Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing 2017

1999, Metropolitan Police are described as “institutionally racist” by Sir William Macpherson, after his public inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder case; an investigation into the black teenager’s racially-motivated murder had failed to lead to a conviction.18

“The foundations of modern policing are based not on justice, but on the punishing of poverty, the imposition of the status quo, the disciplining of the public, the constriction of liberty, and justified as the protection against an ugly, sinful, idle, greedy, and organised criminal class that has no basis in reality.” Lewis Waller explains it so well. I recommend you watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-mD0MCBDs

 1999, Four years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder (1993 black 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in south-east London in a racist attack. His killers remained unconvicted and weren’t locked up until loooooong after) The Macpherson report was published, saying there was “institutional racism” in London’s Metropolitan Police.

2001, The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was created. It investigated crimes committed over the Internet, such as hacking, card fraud and other hi-tech crimes involving the use of computers and telecommunications equipment. It ceased to exist on 1rst of April 2006, when it transferred to the e-crime unit of the UK’s new Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Which reformed and merged again in 2013 becoming the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU).

2002, introduction of Police Reform Act 2002. Introduced Community Support Officers (or police community support officer (PCSO)) in England and Wales only. They are uniformed members of police staff, but not Police Constables although they have certain specific powers of a constable, e.g. concerning lawful detention, those powers vary between forces. In Scotland, PCSO stands for police custody and security officers, also known by the slang nickname “turnkeys”, their job is very different from the community support officers in England and Wales (and I don’t quite know what it entails). Unlike police constables, there is no set training procedure for PCSOs, but it is at least six weeks. Their function is somewhat similar to the BOA in The Netherlands.

2014, Brittan counted 3,000 allegations of police corruption and only half of them were properly investigated.19

2015, have you heard the theory of the ‘total policeman’? Allow me to explain Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe’s theory which he calls ‘total policing’.  Think about sports, about football in particular. It’s the theory of coppers having to play in all positions. It seems harmless at first, but it contains an extremely sinister subtext. Hogan-Howe explained this philosophy saying that ‘no legal tactic is out of bounds’ in the investigation of crime. “Reasonable enough, one might think at first glance, but the problem with this catchy little mantra is that it takes no account of proportionality.”20 wrote Neil Darbshire in 2015. It discards the police from being a service and back towards being a coercive, violent force. And what value has the integrity of the police within this philosophy? If the police top is stretching the law and using their power to bully and intimidate, it encourages other officers to -think they can- do the same. There are plenty of stories out there of whistleblowers being treated not as honourable but as traitors. The total policeman is a culture of power abuse and semi-criminal behaviour that becomes normal.

2016, forces across England and Wales received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain i.e sexual misconduct against 306 police officers, 20 police community support officers and eight staff this year.21

Protest!

Between 10 and 12 April 1981, Brixton riots, or Brixton uprising, were the first large scale racial confrontations between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Brixton, situated in the borough of Lambeth, South London, England. There was a high unemployment rate, bad housing conditions, and in many places in the country, there was racial tension and poor relationships with the police. Sixty-five percent of those unemployed people were black people. During the five days in early April leading up to the riots, there were 943 stop and searches in Brixton infuriating the local population and creating tensions between white police officers and black youths. 

Friday, April 10, 1981, two police officers were attempting to help an injured young black man in their car.  A group of young black men, misinterpreting the police officers’ actions as harassment and attacked the car. The crowd of youths grew larger and more hostile, police reinforcements arrived and they basically didn’t stop patrolling Brixton that night.

Saturday, April 11, 1981, was the worst day of riots. The young black men were now joined by young whites and looting began; several attacks on shops and bars, police vans were overturned and bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs were thrown, setting fire to both police and private cars. It kept going on but finally died down on Sunday the 12th. Overall, 7,000 police officers had been involved in those three days. They arrested a total of 282 people, most of whom were black.22 

There were many more protests to come as protesting has been an important way for people to get their voices heard throughout history. Only four years earlier the Battle of Lewisham took place on 13 August 1977. 500 Members of the far-right National Front (NF) marched from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London. There were various counter-demonstrations and it led to violent clashes between those groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police.23 The Miners’ Strike happened a few years later (1984‒1985), it turned violent and was involved with frequent clashes between miners and the police. The Poll Tax Riots (1990) with an estimated crowd of 200,000 counted on mounted riot police that was brought in fueling anger in Trafalgar Square to escalate the rioting; shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, and Covent Garden. Police ordered pubs to close. I’m not even listing The Troubles in Northern Ireland (yet). “Kill the Bill” (1994) demonstrations in London, against The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that introduced several changes to the law, most notably in the restriction and reduction of existing rights, clamping down on unlicensed rave parties, and greater penalties for certain “anti-social” behaviours. Prior and following multiple LGBTQA+ rights protests, anti-war protests and the United Kingdom student protests (2010), concerns over climate change, Black Lives Matter… just to name a few where police use their tactics for controlling large crowds. 

Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a tactic whereby protesters either leave through an exit controlled by the police or are contained, prevented from leaving, and arrested. This was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012, but is -still!- often used. Deploying the Territorial Support Group (TSG) -formally known as Special Patrol Group 1961 to 1987-, which is a Met Operations unit of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Who are identified as TSG from the distinctive “U” in their shoulder numbers. Their vans are equipped with mesh window shields and officers are equipped with acrylic glass riot shields, visored ‘NATO’ helmets, shin and elbow guards, along with fireproof coveralls. TSG do their special training every five weeks as a matter of routine at a specialist training centre in Kent. TSG officers are equipped with cuffs, batons and tear gas, like all English officers. Some officers (AFOs) carry a semi-automatic carbine, a Baton Gun (riot gun) and a taser. And the question is if the presence of the TSG caused (more) violence in those protests.24 

copied from the Instagram story of Elle Stanger @stripperwriter/

You, a copper?

When I write about the Police, I write about the organisation and the identity and culture of this organisation and it should not be confused with personal identity (in this case how individual police officers define themselves). Even though this is not always disconnected.

“As budgets for these agencies continuously grow, out of all proportion to the risk to public safety they supposedly guard against, this history helps explain the phenomenon.” writes O’shea in Future Histories. The Government is proposing a total settlement for the policing system of up to £15.2 billion in 2020/21, which is an increase of up to £1,121 million compared to 2019/20.25 This includes £700m for the recruitment of 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021. In most cases, you don’t need a degree to join the police force, a minimum Level 3 qualification such as an A-Level or equivalent is fine. This varies between different forces. With a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) you earn and learn on the job, and you’ll end up with a degree in Professional Policing Practice at the end of the programme, but there are multiple entry routes possible (like the Traditional (IPLDP) route or college/ university courses).26 After two years as a student officer before becoming police, constable officers can specialise in a particular type of policing. The average starting salary is £21,000 a year, and £41,500 when an officer is more experienced. If aged 13 to 18 you could become a police cadet, the fastest-growing volunteering uniformed youth group.27 They volunteer in their community and will not directly make them future police officers.

But there are enough coppers already, I’d argue. England and Wales counted 124,784 police officers in 2019, that means 211 per 100,000 citizens police officers.28 This is not the only way of over-policing. The government (i.e. we, the tax paying citizens) provides £516 million for police technology (including £18m of capital funding) this year. 29 Investing in “sobriety tags” and 24-hour GPS tagging..“Keeping our streets safe is one of the people’s priorities- we are already delivering on this by hiring 20,000 new police officers and building 10,000 new prison places.” said Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor.30 

And with the leftover money the Government wants to provide extra (online) resources for victims of rape and sexual abuse, including a single digital hub. Sounds good you say? After reading and hearing so many experiences from other people that experienced (a.o. intimate partner) violence I too was afraid to be treated as a criminal suspect, instead of questioned as a rape victim. I was afraid of going to the police, mostly because it wás the police. Money won’t fix this and neither would intensifying their use of/ faith in technology. In other cases digital technology -too- is creating new ways to criminalize people, specifically those who are already oppressed. How “they” decide what is “criminal” is much like the eighteenth-century Marine Police Office created their ideas of criminality through its work to prevent crime (by protecting the people with money). By generating technical solutions regarding crime -the state as fictional safety provider-, a category of people are classified as criminal. The police or poling power in place trains us to fear them. Can you, for yourself re-define what it means to be safe? That would be a great alternative to the police. 

Abolish the police

The history of policing helps us understand key aspects of the state’s management and their reasoning behind conducting state affairs in the digital age. We are taught about public safety through law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They tell us what is safe, how to understand and define it, and thus we allow them to use technology in increasingly oppressive ways. We cannot reform our way out of systematic problems. Reforms have been attempted before; implicit bias training, body cameras, the ban of chokeholds, amongst others. These reforms do not work. They are simply surface bandages on a deep rooted issue. 

I want you to envision a world without police, just for a moment. Now imagine you are experiencing a mental health crisis and you are afraid. What do you do? You call +331 and a first responder trained in mental health comes to your door. One hour later you are in a safe place with your consent, with plans for follow up care.

Now imagine yourself walking in Victoria park and you see a homeless person sleeping on a bench. A city employee comes by and checks if they need a place to sleep, food, water, or healthcare. One hour later, those who want another place to sleep have one. 

Now imagine you don’t feel safe in your neighbourhood where incidents of gun violence are rising. A trauma-informed crisis intervention team works with community activists to disarm and de-escalate conflicts. People doing harm are connected to services that address the underlying problem. 

New scenario: imagine someone is behaving erratically and is in harm’s way. You text a number and an unarmed urgent responder trained in behaviour and mental health comes within 5 minutes. An hour later, that person is safe and getting the support they need. 

Or, someone seems to be snooping in car windows on your block. You call your neighbours who are trained in self-defence and de-escalation who help you approach the person. An hour later the conflict is resolved & the person responsible is getting the support they need.

And imagine you are experiencing intimate partner violence and you are able to text a number & a trauma-informed crisis intervention specialist meets you in a safe space. An hour later, you are working together to make a plan that will keep you safe in the long term. 

Now you are driving in your car, and you don’t realize but your brake lights aren’t working. A city employee signals for you to pull-over, says “Hey-how about I replace those lights for you right here so no one gets hurt?”. An hour later, both lights work & you’re at home.

Isn’t this public safety?

I took these scenarios from @melegirma/’s Instagram, text by @conflicttransformation from her Alternatives to Policing flyers. Thank you for sharing these, I hope it’s okay for me to use them in my blog. Please look and listen to BIPOC leaders building alternatives to policing in your communities. Let’s imagine how another world is possible.

Final note:

I think that we can all agree that culture is more than its history and plain facts, especially when we speak of an organisation. The approach of corporate analysts might be that an organisation has a culture, however malleable, manipulable and open for change. Within academia is the idea that culture is what an organisation is, is a common approach. Here, culture -as root metaphor- is not easily changed. I’m interested in the form and function of this culture. A culture of policing that is formed through collective memory, zombie stats, (zombie) collectives and zombie ideas (or brain virus); mental programming. I wonder how these constructs play out in our on- and offline realities. To properly unfold these constructs we’d have to look at both micro- and macro- levels that ground our perception.

1 David Taylor, Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1750–1914 (UK: Macmillan Press LTD, 1998)

2 https://www.britannica.com/topic/police/The-history-of-policing-in-the-West

3 ibid

4 a lot of this paragraph is a summarization of Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) chapter 3: Digital Surveillance cannot make us safe: policing bodies and time on London’s docks

5 Elizabeth Nix, Why are British police officers called “Bobbies”?, History https://www.history.com/news/why-are-british-police-officers-called-bobbies updated 22-8-2018 Accessed 4-8-2020

6 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/58/schedule/3/part/III

7 David Taylor, CRIME, POLICING AND PUNISHMENT IN ENGLAND, 1750-1914 Chapter: 4 The Origins and Impact of the New Police, p. 72

8 ibid

9 ibid

10  Lewis Waller, The Fist of Modernity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-mD0MCBDs 8 mei 2020

11 David Taylor, CRIME, POLICING AND PUNISHMENT IN ENGLAND, 1750-1914 Chapter: 4 The Origins and Impact of the New Police, p. 96

12 Clive Emsley, The English Police A Political and Social History Second Edition (London, New York: Routledge, 1996) 

13 ibid

14 ibid

15  http://www.localhistories.org/police.html

16https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_law_enforcement_in_the_United_Kingdom

17 https://www.prisonstudies.org/

18 Sanchia Berg, How a 1970s policeman changed his mind, BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35220929 5 January 2016

19 Neil Darbyshire, The shocking truth about police corruption in Britain, The Spectator https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-shocking-truth-about-police-corruption-in-britain From magazine issue: 7 March 2015

20 ibid

21 Jamie Grierson, Hundreds of police in England and Wales accused of sexual abuse, the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/08/hundreds-police-officers-accused-sex-abuse-inquiry-finds  8 Dec 2016

22 Felix Brenton, BRIXTON RIOTS (APRIL 10-12, 1981), BlackPast.org https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/brixton-riots-april-10-12-1981/  13 june 2010

23 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lewisham

24 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_Support_Group

25 HO News Team, Factsheet: Police Funding Settlement 2020-21,https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/22/factsheet-police-funding-settlement-2020-21/ 22 January 2020

26 https://www.joiningthepolice.co.uk/ways-in-to-policing

27 https://vpc.police.uk/be-a-cadet/

28https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_number_of_police_officers

29 HO News Team, Factsheet: Police Funding Settlement 2020-21 https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/22/factsheet-police-funding-settlement-2020-21/ 22 January 2020

30 Charles Hymas, Criminals’ community sentences will be toughened up thanks to £100m Budget boost, Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/03/09/criminals-community-sentences-will-toughened-thanks-100m-budget/ 9 March 2020

A.C.A.B.

(A.C.A.B. is an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards")

Stories about the police killing black people are familiar, so familiar in fact that their details began to fade. Videos that were massively shared lose their shocking value as many others make their appearance. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know a lot about (the history of) policing until recently. It has something to do with my privilege and normalization. 

[edit 19-7] My dad used to work for the Dutch police, for a few years, when I was still a child and he needed to provide for our family. He wasn’t a policeman and had to put some of his own resistance a side working there. Still, he was able to communicate open and truthful with his police-colleagues during those years. And I am not saying that all cops are bad people. They are people who work for the police. Police = bad, people not. I had a friend in primary school, whose father was (still is?) a police agent, but I don’t remember much about his job. Maybe some kid did a presentation once. I wouldn’t recommend downloading the “spreekbeurtpakket” (presentation package for children) today, because they teach shit like; “Is your friend threatened (by another kid)? Steals a classmate from backpacks at school? Is there something wrong? Tell the police now.1 I haven’t been involved with police much either. I remember running away from them once, after almost being busted for public drinking and doing drugs at a local park with friends from high school and reporting a hit and drive when we drove into a car that randomly stopped on the highway. I remember them making a house call after someone complained about noise and I remember the several times I wanted to file a rapport on abuse and sexual harassment but didn’t go. Do you remember your encounters with the police?

Police, past present perfect

Each country has its own story of policing and its important to know the differences. Since I grew up in the Netherlands, I will start there.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment where 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.”2 (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 at 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!). Those 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.3 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 rotating hammer on a wooden stick that functioned as an alarm. 

(https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/1Deschoutzijnrakkersendeschutterij.aspx)

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 salesman, that worked in a shop or tavern. And no one really wanted to work those low paid night shift, so the occupation of night watch 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 easily, armed with guns and horses. In 1793, the French announced war to the Dutch republic of 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. Their horses needed breaks and their uniforms were not resistant against 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-militia 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 were 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 police enforcement and they started copying their way around the 1840s/1850s; uniforms, sabels, top hats and all. Schooling wasn’t needed; no issue if you hadn’t finished your primary school, could read and write a bit.. nice, but not mandatory. You had to be big, tough and strong to join. The Dutch police were rough and they handled the citizens even rougher. Needless to say that they weren’t liked much. 

1848, J. R. Thorbecke, a very import 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. 

1880, the world of the 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 joint their forces. The marechaussee horses deemed often intimidating enough to prevent protests from happening, that 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, the question of 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 counterfeit money centre, one that fought international criminals and one that investigated girls and women trafficking. In Rotterdam, located the smuggling of narcotics and car thefts. Amsterdam and Rotterdam were extremely 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 to 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. Either if it’s because the sex worker’s interest in maintaining their anonymity, or that of their clients or other reasons, the police sees these sex workers as offenders rather than victims and often fail to take their request for help seriously, regardless of whether sex work is voluntary or coerced.

* (source: personal Facebook page from someone I used to know, currently employed by the Dutch Armed Forces)

* It’s broken Dutch, but it roughly translates: For anyone who demonstrates against slavery and racism: 1. First learn the history from 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 sexslaves? 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 believes and values….CAN I ASK YOU WHERE YOUR RESPECT FOR MY COUNTRY, MY CULTURE, MY BELIEVES AND 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 WW2.4 Their distribution of police agents shifted after the war and it was cleansed, reformed again and again until 1994; the KLPD (National Police Force) is formed. The Netherlands is not a police state and even though both 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.5 

Living today means,

<<vigilant and helpful>> https://www.politie.nl/

2020, The Dutch police consists of ten regional units, the National Unit and the Police Services Center. It counts approximately 50,400 officers.6 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 (like, making sure no one sprays graffiti and watching young people leave the bars at holiday locations in the summer7), warning others and tipping them off, helping (Domestic violence? Abuse? Fire in a private house? The police helps.8), enforcement (like, 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, flashlight, portophone, 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 uncontrollable: “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.”

Now, imagine that you are a police agent, receiving the 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 colleges arrive. Four suspects aged around 16 are standing on 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 walk quietly towards them, try 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 look at the gun and the 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 to 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. To become a surveillant it will take you 1,5 years of police academy and internships, 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 much implicit and explicit biases remain, even after targeted and intensive training? I don’t accuse officers to be intentionally racist, although this can be true, I doubt the training work because institutional pressures remain intact. 

(https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/hoe-etnisch-divers-is-de-nederlandse-politie~b7bd8e98/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F)

Diversifying the workplace is often seen as another ‘solution’ against 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.”10 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.11 I guess that racial profiling and excessive use of force is 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)

Drugs

💉 💊 ⛄ 🌿 🍬 🍺 🍹 🚬

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 like; cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamine, LSD, heroin and the second depicts soft drugs; hash, weed and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Normally, possession of both hard drugs and soft drugs for personal use is not a legitimate reason for prosecution. If the boy carried less than 5 grams for soft drugs (hash or weed) and/or a maximum of 0,5 gram for 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 their purity and 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. 

Don’t Shoot!

18 June 2020, the Dutch police officers use their gun 0,029 times a year on average. Some never use their weapons during their career, where others use it 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 his 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 a leg can be immensely dangerous, deadly even. The officers weren’t even near a life-threatening situation at the time of the shooting, the distance was too big. 

(https://controlealtdelete.nl/blog/politie-schiet-man-neer-die-zijn-handen-in-de-lucht-steekt)

All anomalies, especially the mentally ill are often seen as a dangerous source of disorder that must be controlled by aggressive policing. Yelling a command and/or displaying weapons often tend to escalate and destabilize encounters, and can cause a (mentally ill) person to flee or become more aggressive, but it still is the standard police approach. Even alternative approaches to the command-and-control approach might be problematic when encountering someone with a psychotic episode or delusion or someone who otherwise is unable to 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 easily. Luckily, in most places in Europe, Brittain, Canada and Australia the common approach is a crisis response that includes mental health workers, police only assisting when necessary. This method works for crises, but what about other public disorder? Regarding minor violations like public drinking, public urinating, sleeping in parks, tubes, trains or sidewalks; what is and, what should be done by the police? 

Intoxication, mental illness and homelessness in itself are not crimes. Police were always expected to provide some kind of care for the poorest 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.12 This is even harder when writing about ‘offences to the moral order’, like the ones I introduced earlier. We are all aware of horrors about international human trafficking, but criminalizing all sex work is ineffective. The “white slave” narrative is the form of a policing era that emphasised on restoring morality to the cities, “which had been “polluted” by the massive influx of eastern and southern European immigrants”.13 

“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 police remains unchanged, none of these reforms will be achievable. There is no technocratic fix.”14 is the final conclusion of The End of Policing (book). 

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, ask for identification, make an arrest, issue 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.16 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.17

(https://www.nha.nl/beroepsopleidingen/orde-en-veiligheid/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar-boa)

BOAs are intimidating and often aggressive. At many occasions, I saw them using extensive force to detain citizens. I frequently watched them monitor train stations, occasionally frightening travellers, often questioning, or searching them and even pushing them to the ground. BOAs pace in groups. They walk with big steps, their breasts forwards and their voices loud. BOAs are often white men with a 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 mostly men of colour. In my experience, BOA’s are not friendly. One day a BOA sat next to me in the tram in Rotterdam. He didn’t leave much space for me to sit, his manscaping legs positioned so wide. 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 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. Hands 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 the 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 travellers’ voice was soft. “What the fuck…”, I yelled loudly at the BOA, and “let him go” slightly softer. Other travellers began to interfere. They told me to stop filming. I stopped filming, handed the traveller his herbs back, he thanked me and I wanted to say something more. They; other travellers and a BOA moved towards me as I quickly slipped out of the tram in shock. The rain was pouring and thunder trembling and I was so angry. Shaking in disbelief I walked after the tram tracks towards home. I made contact with police and public transport and shared the video as soon as I got there. See image for their only response.

[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.]

Sadly this is just one of the many cases of extensive, unnecessarily violence. I am privileged that I have never been on the other side (of the camera). I have watched their misconduct but have never been targeted by a BOA in the Netherlands. This is just one example of the many I have witnessed. I don’t have to be afraid to use public transport. I have travelled without credit many times and slept on many trains without any problem. 

That’s not to said that I haven’t been afraid. 

12 May 2017, nothing has happened to me directly. BOAs happened to my partner. He gave me consent to write his story of that night. A spring evening, he took the train home after a long week of hard work that ended with a celebration of finishing a huge project. He was tired and he fell asleep as soon as he positioned himself on the train’s seat. Only to wake up from loud voices. Had he already arrived at his destination? He wasn’t aware of how much time had past. BOAs forcefully pulled him off the train, when he didn’t immediately answer to their commands. He was pushed onto the platform. The screen of his phone cracked. His arms bent backwards and a knee pushed, positioned between his shoulders him face down to the ground. In shock, he noticed that he missed his stop and realized that the last train back was leaving soon. He would miss it, and the next one too. The BOAs didn’t respond to his questions and kept on using force to detain him. You should know that he is a peaceful, quiet nerdy guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. He’s never been in a fight and even though he’s tall and has some muscle, he doesn’t look threatening at all. Without explanation, the BOAs called the police on him. Why? He still doesn’t know to this day. The police arrived and transported him to a police station on the other side of Utrecht. They didn’t explain anything either. I first heard a word of him at 3:30 am. I had tried to reach him many times, but at last, he was allowed to send me a text. It read: “I am currently detained at Utrecht Vaartse Rijn police station. I fell asleep on the train. I don’t know when they’ll let me go. I did nothing wrong. Don’t worry.” I was worried sick. I called the police station and they said that they wouldn’t tell me anything. We aren’t married after all. He became irritated. Pressing the button in his cell over and over again, he questioned if they would detain him overnight. He asked them if they thought he was intoxicated, why they didn’t test him. He was never drunk, to begin with. He called them out for their indecency. They released him approximately two hours after his text to me. Oh, I wish I could’ve been there. I heard his voice falling apart when we finally spoke. I told him to call a cab. He did and told his story to the driver straight away. The driver was super friendly and was the first to listen to the story as they drove home. He told my partner that things like this happen all the time. The cab driver was Moroccan, you see. Racial profiling wasn’t at play when the BOA’s took my partner, he is white but BOAs obviously needed someone to act out on that night. 

My partner was heavily bruised all over. His wrists, his neck and back showed signs of violence, his pants were ripped and his phone scratched and screen splintered. How did it end? Long story short; he filled a report at the police station in our hometown of mistreatment and abuse. It was revoked by the police soon after filling it. He asked for insight, CCTV’s showing the misconduct and police rapport from that night. The police wouldn’t allow it. A local officer visited our house almost two years after (we moved in between and they said the couldn’t find our address). My partner was fined. The fines, both 99 euro stated ‘disorderly behaviour’, with each a different timestamp. One stamped after he was taken to the police station, but noted the same location, Utrecht Central station. My partner objected. He never got a court date until after it had taken place (we moved in between and they said the couldn’t find our address). He paid.

Honestly, I can’t imagine their pain, disappointment, anger and discomfort. All I can do is listen and learn how to make it right. Most of us can recall memories similar to those listed above. I think it is a good start to process the information. 

1 https://www.vraaghetdepolitie.nl/binaries/content/assets/vhdp/18097-181128-spreekbeurtpakket_interactieve-pdf_di.pdf

2 https://www.politie.nl/over-de-politie/organisatie—geschiedenis.html

3 https://www.politieacademie.nl/thema/Politiegeschiedenis/ canonpolitiegeschiedenis/Pages/1Deschoutzijnrakkersendeschutterij

4 https://isgeschiedenis.nl/nieuws/geschiedenis-van-de-politie-in-nederland

5 “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&nbsp;

6 jaarverantwoording 2018 politie https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/jaarverslagen/2019/05/15/nationale-politie-2018

7 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

8 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

9 ibid

10 Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing (London, New York: Verso, 2017) Chapter 1: The limits of police reform p. 17

11 Joris Tieleman, Serena Frijters, Hoe etnisch divers is de Nederlandse politie? https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/hoe-etnisch-divers-is-de-nederlandse-politie~b7bd8e98/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F, 12 June 2020

12 Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing (London, New York: Verso, 2017)

13 ibid

14 ibid

15 https://www.politie.nl/themas/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar.html#alinea-title-hoeveel-boas-zijn-er-in-nederland

16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement_in_the_Netherlands

17 https://www.indeed.nl/salaries/buitengewoon-opsporingsambtenaar-Salaries?start=10