Leiden Law Blog

Drop in crime and police overhaul

Drop in crime and police overhaul

People usually believe that crime is on the rise. This was indeed the case at the end of the 1990s in most Western countries. It took years before the reverse trend, the decrease in crime which has been visible since roughly 2003, started to attract attention. Recently, the drop in crime  made it to the headlines in the Netherlands when Chief of the Dutch National Police Gerard Bouman claimed that the improved situation was the result of a more effective police organisation due to the reorganisation into one national force. His statements were put into doubt and openly criticised. In fact, claiming success is not so uncommon for organisations. Many evaluation reports also easily assume a causal link between changes and policies. Organisations typically get away with it. The problem in this case may have been that the reorganisation of the police towards a centralised police force has not generally been viewed as being very successful until now. It has cost considerably more money and time than forecast. And, like reorganisations in general, it seems to have led - at least in the beginning - to all sorts of problems; in this case ranging from IT failures to uncertainties among staff members and negative publicity.

European crime data may shed some light on the issue. First of all, recent Eurostat data reveals that a similar crime drop as witnessed in the Netherlands is also taking place in other EU countries. The data shows a general tendency towards a decrease in the levels of recorded crime across Member States. The number of most types of crimes recorded by the police in the European Union has fallen (with the notable exception of domestic burglary). This decrease started a full decade before the launch of the Dutch police reorganisation and is also visible in countries without police reorganisations. EU data also includes information on the number of police officers employed. The figures show that in most Member States the level of police personnel employed remained relatively stable between 2007 and 2012, but showed a slight increase for the Netherlands. This data seems to suggest that the Netherlands was getting similar results to other Member States in terms of a crime reduction with a slight growth in manpower, whereas other countries were faced with a stable and sometimes decreasing police force.

These brief observations across borders seem to be in line with those who do not buy the assumed causal link between the drop in crime and the recent restructuring of the police force. But the most convincing argument remains; it is simply far too early to expect real improvements. The reorganisation is not even half completed and takes up a lot of energy which is not spent on crucial policing tasks. And networks are disrupted first before they can improve. If a centralised national police is to yield better results, this will definitely take more time. And this will only be the case if the coordination and cooperation between law enforcement in different regions is indeed improved - a crucial aim of the whole operation. Criminals who cross borders within and between states should no longer be able to benefit from poor law enforcement co-operation across boundaries. That is the real challenge of present-day policing, not only in the Netherlands but throughout Europe. Crime drop or not. 

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