Which is a safe city in the Netherlands

II. Showcase Rotterdam

Oppressive cleanliness welcomes travelers to Rotterdam Central Station. No bags of rolls to be thrown away, not even trodden cigarette butts. In the tunnel under the tracks: orderly rush hour traffic. Men in dark suits hurry past. In between, girls in jeans and parkers stroll, an old lady leans on her umbrella. The crowd builds up in front of a stairway to the platform. Light blue uniformed people check the tickets. Nobody is allowed to go up here without it.

The crowd splits. Two policemen go through and give a friendly greeting. In the entrance hall they nod to their colleagues who are standing in front of a bookstore. Officials are also patrolling the forecourt. A wide banner warns the newcomer: “You are live on the air. The station is monitored by cameras. "

"No words, but deeds"

For the city fathers of Rotterdam, the main station is the most important showcase for their new security policy. Peace and order have returned to the places where hashish clouds were moving through the aisles a year ago. The city party Leefbaar Rotterdam had promised “not words, but deeds” before the local elections in March 2002. Under her well-known leader, right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn, she came up with a single topic: “Rotterdam must become safer”.

The new party won more than a third of the seats on the city council and sent the Social Democrats, who had ruled for decades, into the opposition. Since then, a coalition of Leefbaar Rotterdam, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the right-wing liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) has been working to “restore order” to Rotterdam, says a spokesman for the Security Program Office.

The office is supposed to implement the coalition's security program. The plan is primarily based on repression: more police officers are to patrol, in local public transport and at the train stations supported by private security services. Public places are monitored with cameras. Police officers are allowed to search passers-by for weapons without specific suspicion. Addicts and teenagers hanging around will be sent off.

There are no police officers to be seen on Mathenesserweg in the Tussendijken district. Here, where drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes rule the streets in the evening, there is a deceptive calm in the light of the morning sun. Red brick narrow houses line the streets. Many shops are empty, the shop windows are barricaded with wooden panels and the doors are barred. In between there is a “night vaudeville”. The red carpet that runs from the entrance to the curb has black footprints. A little further on, a Moroccan greengrocer sets up his window.

The neighborhood is a popular destination for foreign drug tourists. At the entrance to the quarter, at the metro station on Marconiplatz, the dealers intercept them, then lead them into one of the demolished houses in Willem Beukelszoonstraat, which leads off Mathenesserweg. The strong metal plates with which the city had the doors barred do not hold anyone back. Not even the half-tattered posters that warn against violating drug laws if punished. Individual men, mostly blacks, lean against the crumbling house walls, bored. Drug dealers waiting for customers? Unemployed? Illegal refugees?

Scenes like this have been fueling the anger of the people of Rotterdam for years. Although the crime rate is not significantly higher than in comparable German cities, a criminal subculture has developed in the old districts of the port city over the years, which has steadily increased the citizens' feeling of insecurity. Despite the rapid economic upturn in the 1990s, the city government long neglected to take action against the increasing neglect of the streets, says Paul Mevis, criminal lawyer at the University of Rotterdam. "For this, people have to defend more and more."

Criminal subculture

At the beginning of the nineties there were real unrest in some parts of the city. Vigilante groups were formed that took action on their own against drug trafficking and street prostitution. With their new strategy of "zero tolerance", the authorities are now trying to win back the monopoly of force for themselves. The success at the main train station seems to prove the security politicians right.

However, critics warn that cut-throat competition could arise between the city districts. Because only some of those criminals and addicts who are evicted leave the city. The rest collects in other places that are often harder to control. “But doing nothing is not an option,” says the Security Program Office. And when asked how much freedom a Rotterdam citizen has to give up for his or her security: “If you don't do anything bad, you don't have to be afraid.” In fact, the protest against preventive searches or camera surveillance is limited.

But the weaknesses of the political staff could quickly put an end to Rotterdam's lofty security plans. Observers are already warning that, because of its instability, Leefbaar Rotterdam could fare similarly to the list of Pim Fortuyn, which achieved a high national election victory in 2002, but fell back into political insignificance after a few months. Then the CDA and VVD would have to step into the breach, because many residents of the workers' city no longer trust the Social Democrats to be able to solve the problems. For too long they have tolerated the development and relied on social help alone. In the face of such ambiguities, the residents of Tussendijken prefer to rely on themselves. Defiantly, they put up large signs to warn all street criminals: “We want to live here. We're not giving up. "

Security program Rotterdam

After the local elections in March 2002, the Rotterdam city government from Leefbaar Rotterdam, Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) provided almost 200 million euros for its “zero tolerance” program. Around 100 million euros are to be spent on security. The city wants to invest the rest in the integration of foreigners, school lessons and school equipment, economic subsidies and housing construction.

By 2006, all parts of the city are to have their own security plans. Local cooperation between the police, social services, city cleaning, the public order office and citizens is to be strengthened. These institutions should jointly develop concepts according to which particularly endangered places can be made safer.

In addition, nine districts were named that are hardest hit by street crime and prostitution. There, 360 illegal meeting places for drug addicts, coffee shops and brothels are to be closed over the next four years. By 2006, the number of robberies, break-ins and car thefts should also have fallen by twenty percent. The well-known street prostitute on Keileweg, which city leaders had tolerated for a long time, is said to have disappeared by 2005.

700 drug addicts are said to disappear from the streets

The security program pays special attention to young people, drug-related crime and street violence. Young people should be punished quickly if they do not show up for school lessons. Underage Moroccans and Antillians in particular, but also young asylum seekers, should be more closely monitored and disciplined. The city's 700 drug addicts are also said to have disappeared from the streets. The police can refuse addicts in the future. The drug trade on the street should be consistently prevented. More police patrols, camera surveillance and specially trained civil patrols are to be used against violence and vandalism.

In order to be able to measure the success of its plan, the city government has developed a so-called "safety index". Similar to a stock market index, the indicator should show how crime and the sense of security of the residents in a district have developed.

Author:Karsten Polke-Majewski
Created: May 2003