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  • Ethnic profiling in the Netherlands?

    A reflection on expanding preventive powers, ethnic profiling and a changing social and political context

    Over the past decades the Netherlands has developed into a culture of control in which criminals and immigrants are mainly seen as ‘dangerous others’. Tying in with this emergence of the culture of control is the development of a more preventive criminal justice system. By means of expanding preventive powers the criminal justice system is more and more aimed at detecting risky (groups of) persons as soon as possible. This so-called actuarial justice is accompanied by a great deal of discretionary power on the hands of those who have to enforce the law, bearing the risk that such powers may be carried out (in part) on the basis of generalisations relating to race, ethnicity, religion or nationality instead of on the basis of individual behaviour and/or objective evidence. The leading assumption in this article is that recent social, political and legal developments have increased the possibility for ethnic profiling in the Netherlands. Being a country of immigration, mostly immigrants tend to fall victim to these practices. Illustrated by the stop and search powers that have been introduced at municipal level in 2002 and in 2006 in the context of counterterrorism, the authors not only aim to provide insight into the complexity of actuarial justice in relation to ethnic profiling in the Netherlands but also aim to fuel the scientific debate on empirically researching ethnic profiling.

    Policing & Society
    Vol. 21, No. 4, December 2011, 444 455
    Racial and ethnic profiling have been primarily linked to characteristics of police culture in the existing, rather Anglo-American-centred, literature. The present article on the Dutch case takes a different stance by linking issues of profiling to changing social, political and legal developments. Over the past decades, the Dutch criminal justice landscape has changed. Whereas Adler (1983) indicated the Netherlands as a country not obsessed with crime, and Kommer (1994) referred to it as a ‘beacon of enlightenment and tolerance’ with regard to its penal climate, neither of these statements will hold anymore nowadays. Crime and fear of crime have become important spearheads of Dutch governmental policy.
    Despite dropping crime rates since 2002, incarceration rates are high, the penal system is sober and the public and
    political discourse on crime and potential ‘dangerous others’ is far from tolerant (Downes and Van Swaaningen 2007). Although the impact and aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have contributed to these changes, in fact, the attacks fertilised an already lush breeding ground. Lingering apprehensions of the Dutch multicultural society were raised, and issues of immigration, integration and the overrepresentation of non-western ethnic minorities1 in registered crime statistics were given a hitherto unknown acuteness (van der Woude 2010).
    As Eijkman (2010, p. 2) also observes, the supposed relationship between ethnicity and social problems, especially crime and nuisance, has progressively become a political issue, resulting in extreme political statements including the calls for the ‘deportation of convicted criminals with Moroccan nationality’ and ‘special stop and searches for Antillean youths in Rotterdam’ (Jennissen 2009, Maasstad Pers 2010). The development of a discourse in which minority groups are increasingly seen and addressed as ‘dangerous others’, comparable to criminals, is part of a broader
    process of crimmigration _ the merging of migration policy and crime control _ in the Netherlands (Stumpf 2006, Van der Leun 2010).
    This has put an increasing pressure on law enforcement officials to profile on the basis of race or nationality. Dutch police, for instance, carried out targeted ‘stop and searches’ questioning the identity of specific groups of aliens, such as West Africans, as well as extra alcohol controls for foreign drivers, especially those coming from Poland (Nationale Ombudsman 2009, KLPD 2010). Moreover, countless policy measures _ and special funds have been introduced to deal specifically with crime problems and disorder amongst youngsters with an Antillean and Moroccan background, the main ‘symbolic suspects’ at the moment. Despite the growing complexity of the relationship between crime and ethnicity and the therewith connected pressure on law enforcement officials, until now, there has been little systematic research on ethnic profiling in the Netherlands (Van der Leun et al. 2010).
    The leading assumption in this article is that recent social, political and legal developments have increased the possibility for ethnic profiling in the Netherlands. As the Open Society Justice Initiative concluded in an extensive report on ethnic profiling in the European Union (OSJI 2009), ethnic profiling is not only impermissible under international law but can also contribute to feelings of polarisation and stigmatisation among those
    who are subjected to it. On the other hand, police and other services that are increasingly expected to work intelligence-led have much better computerised data at their disposal than in earlier times, and profiling techniques in general have become widely used.
    This in combination with political and public pressure to solve issues in which migrants are involved _ and sometimes overrepresented almost inherently creates tensions which cannot be ignored. Theoretically, this also
    sheds a different light on the traditional explanations for ethnic profiling. We will first discuss some important social and political changes that have contributed to the securitisation of Dutch society, creating a climate in which criminals and immigrants are often seen and framed as potentially ‘dangerous’.
    Tying in with these changes, we will go into the development of a more preventive criminal justice system, particularly focusing on expanding preventive law enforcement powers. Furthermore, we will address the issue of ethnic profiling in relation to the aforementioned developments. Due to the lack of solid empirical research, we will conclude with recommendations with respect to a future research agenda.
    Ethnic profiling in the Netherlands?