A policy of randomly frisking people on the streets of Amsterdam is being trialled by police in response to a rise in youth gun crime but the police union has objected to the involvement of civilian observers.
To assuage fears that the searches will involve ethnic profiling, a team of civilian monitors has been deployed tasked with reporting on any suspicious patterns.
But the police union – irritated by what they regard as an insult to their professionalism – has, in turn, deployed their own observers to observe the civilian observers.
“We do not find it acceptable that there are civilian observers”, said Jan Struijs, the chairman of the Dutch Police Association, after a meeting with the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema. “That feeds mistrust and there is no reason to doubt the trust of the police. The mayor also thought so.
“We as police unions will send professional observers from our own ranks,” Struijs added. “We will also make our own report because we have no confidence in these civilian observers.”
For a month from Wednesday, the police is conducting “preventative frisking” in five parts of the city where there is evidence of an increase in gun ownership: Bijlmer-Centrum, Burgwallen Nieuwe Zijde, Geuzenveld, Dapperbuurt and Waterlandpleinbuurt.
The plan had been criticised by Amnesty International, which insisted on the use of monitors as a safeguard against racial profiling. In a survey conducted in 2020 by the local authorities, more than half of the respondents said they believed that such profiling played a role in their contact with the police.
After a recent meeting with Halsema, a spokesperson for Amnesty said steps had been taken in the right direction in response to its concerns about the policy, with 45 civilians being used to supervise the police.
“In the trial that starts today, for example, every umpteenth passerby is checked,” the Amnesty spokesperson said. “In this way ethnic profiling could be prevented. Nevertheless, we will continue to look critically at the radical actions that will take place in the coming days.”
Halsema has faced the opposition of a majority of Amsterdam’s city council over the initiative but she has said it is necessary given an increase of crimes involving guns.
Passersby, bags and vehicles will be searched. Participation is mandatory if requested by a police officer. Children up to the age of 12, families and people over 65 will not be subject to searches.