Leiden Law Blog

How to feel more secure with less police

How to feel more secure with less police

In September this year it was announced in the news that by 2017 3000 jobs will have to be shed in the Dutch national police force. This will mean that the plan – launched a few years ago – to bring more ‘blue on to the streets’ (referring to the navy blue colour of the Dutch police uniforms) to heighten the sense of security among the people cannot be achieved. But does this also mean that the general feeling of security in Dutch society is now endangered?

Clinging to a false sense of security

Research has shown that a visible presence of the police does not reduce the level of crime and so does not make society a more secure place. But the connection between feelings of security and the visible presence of the police has persisted. There is, however, a good reason to negate this connection as well: by shifting our responsibility to an outside authority – the state represented by the police – we allow ourselves to wait passively for our security to be handed down to us, in a top-down way; or to complain, when we think the state has not done enough to achieve this. It’s a clever way to turn the security problem into somebody else’s problem.  

Opening up to a real sense of security

Yet deep down we do know that we can and must do something ourselves – in a bottom-up way – if we really want to feel more secure. To this end we can, for instance, start developing our innate sense of empathy, our capacity to reach out to other people and try to look at the world from their point of view. A lot has been written about empathy already, but I think the ideas of the cultural philosopher Roman Krznaric are particularly relevant here. In a recently published book he shows how empathy can help us to open our minds to people who are very different to us, people who up till now we have considered ‘strangers’ or even ‘enemies’. By simply having a good conversation with them we might be able to include them in our world. And I think in this way we can also gradually expand our sphere of security.

A revolutionary change

Krznaric acknowledges that our empathic sense does not correspond to the human self-image of being primarily selfish and driven by individual gain; an image spread by influential thinkers from Hobbes to Freud that has dominated the Western world for the last 400 years. But according to him this self-image is quickly losing ground: new scientific insights – from child psychology, primatology and brain research – prove that empathy is also natural to us, at least as powerful as our selfish side. Importantly, Krznaric believes that empathy can become nothing short of a revolutionary force transforming our social environment for the better, if on a collective scale we regularly start practising and developing this neglected sense. It’s likely that this transformed social environment will be a more secure environment as well.

Diversity and security

However, as long as most people still consider themselves to be largely driven by self-interest, they will not be inclined to make an effort to reach out to the ‘strangers’ in society. They will tend to hold on to their safe circle of family and friends, to their corresponding limited sphere of security, while feeling threatened by the large surrounding world of ‘strangers’. That’s why the new insights into our empathic sense are so important. By practising our empathic sense regularly outside this safe circle, we might not only transform our own limited self-image but also help others to undergo a similar transformation. It’s not hard to understand that the bigger the diversity of people we can include in our world, in other words that we can include within our sphere of security, the more secure we will start feeling. 

To come back to the issue of job losses in the Dutch police force: though not good for police officers and their families, these job losses need not endanger our general feeling of security, if we collectively start practising our empathic sense a little more.

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