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Amsterdam Police Meets South East Community
By Taiwo Feyisipo
The “Police is your friend” is a well-known slogan that many police forces around the world use to show the civil society that they are there to protect the community.
However, the community of Amsterdam South East community has mixed feelings for this worn-out slogan. The Bijlmer which is the south east part of
In recent time the community witnessed two major ugly incidences - the unpopular raid of Grand Café last year and the unfortunate but avoidable death of Mike Osei. These incidences created friction, mistrust and communication gap between the police and the community, particularly the African community which resulted in series of protests.
Since then, consultations and meetings were initiated by the Africa Roots Movements with the Police and local Council. During these meetings, The Africa Roots Movements proposed a broader public dialogue of understanding and peaceful co-existence between the Police and the community. The police and the city council with the consent of the Mayor of Amsterdam, Mr. Cohen agreed to the proposal and the first meeting took place on
The meeting was opened by the Chairwoman of the Amsterdam South East local council, Mrs. Elvira Sweet. She thanked everyone for coming; informing the gathering that she brought a message of understanding from the Mayor of Amsterdam and enjoined everyone to feel free to ask questions. Mr. Ed Smit, the Police Chief for the third district of
*Participants at the community meeting
*Participants at the community meeting
Mr. Smit explained what the police can and cannot do when it comes to controls, illegality, traffic problems, domestic conflicts, identity control etc. More over, their philosophy is to be there for the people not against the people and in principle the police generally don’t want to have confrontation with the civil society because they themselves are also civilians when out of uniform as normal men and women, but still have the responsibility to maintain law and order and to fight crime. Though there are lots of conflicts and misunderstanding of the Dutch laws and interpretations but this can be understood because of many communication barriers. There are thousands of contacts between the police and the people which results in approximately 12,000 arrests in these parts of
It was observed that some residents of the Amsterdam South East are going through psychological fear and trauma because of police actions. Mr. Jude Kehla-Wirnker who is the Stadsdeel Zuid Oost’s coordinator for Labour policy, social activities, integration etc. disagreed with the observation that people are traumatized as the majority are normal people who go about their daily activities as others elsewhere who go to work, take care of their family, pay their bills etc. He said the fact that criminals are sometimes black does not imply that they should ignore the crime. He pointed out that black-on-black crime must be tackled, but the Stadsdeel Zuid Oost is there to direct victims to appropriate channels were they can get help.
Mr. Smit explains that most of the complaints about the police is mostly about wrong arrest but that the police is not there to arrest illegal people because they are aware of how many illegals are in each neighbourhood and are capable of arresting them at one time for example as the police only need 2 to 3 platoons of anti-riot police who can surround and cordon off say “K” area and arrest anyone without proper papers but would not do so as long as these people go about their normal duty and are law abiding. According to him, it is easy to arrest illegals but not their duty to do so and that the principle applies to all parts of
On the question of identity checks, the police officers are not allowed to ask for ID for no reason. When for example, someone is standing at Ganzenhoef doing nothing and the police ask for ID, that action of the police is unlawful. The only exceptions are for example during football tournaments, riots, crime zone etc. Though the law stipulates that everyone in the country must have his or her ID at all time and without it will get a fine, yet that does not mean the police has the right to stop someone to arbitrarily ask for an ID.
Regarding cases of Police officers’ abuse of power and the recourse for victims, Mr. Smit told the audience that there is check and balance within the police force when it comes to such situations. For example when an officer makes an arrest, there is always an Inspector of Police who records, investigate and questions the person. If the inspector finds out that the arresting police officer just ask of ID without any criminal behaviour, then the officer is deemed to be wrong. Due to the realisation that the police inspector sometimes might not want to persecute their colleagues, the Amsterdam Mayor, Mr. Cohen set-up an independent committee whose members are civilians to look into such cases and to advice the mayor. Up to date, about 10% of reports against the police is correct and sometimes the victims had to be paid.
When it was revealed that in the past few years, some in the community have lost trust in the police, Mr. Smit acknowledged that when he was transferred to the Bijlmer, his family was scarred because of the past reputation of the area. However, the Bijlmer has fallen as the number one crime area in the
In the area of racism within the police rank, it was disclosed that the police takes this seriously. For example there was an incidence were a white Police officer made (as claimed) a joke to his black colleague that the table in the restaurant was meant for white (Dutch) person, the case was investigated and the white officer was immediately dismissed from active duty. In the case of the Grand Café, the police did thorough investigation on when to round up the criminals because they found it to be the right place and time before the raid and not that the police suddenly went in without prior investigation. Several questions came up on the Grand Café issue because of the fact that it was seen as a racist act as only few of those arrested were convicted of engaging in criminal acts and majority were convicted of being undocumented which meant that the police only came to arrest illegals. Mr. Smit reiterated that even though few were convicted of crime, he still justifies their action but personally felt sorry for the undocumented who got deported or still in jail. He said people should realise that it cost a lot of resources to carry-out such operation and therefore could not be done without proper reason and in future if there is any report about criminality in similar places, the police will still have to do their job.
Question about what is crime and who is a criminal brought deep reflection on who can and cannot get away with criminal act especially when it concerns police being on the other side (law breaker). Mr. Smit made it clear that whoever breaks the law is a criminal; sometimes people get away whenever the arm of the cannot get them but for example, he himself sometimes violates traffic offence and he gets home and receives a fine, and if the law gets you, you have to pay for the crime committed. When a police officer violates the law, there is an arm of the law that makes it clear that he or she is punished more heavily than a civilian.
*Mr. Smit addressing concerns of two participants
*Mr. Smit addressing concerns of two participants
Fear of the Police and authority by undocumented migrants brought deep concern as to how to help them get justice. For example some are sick and are afraid to go to the hospital; some have their rights violated by a Dutch or documented person but cannot get justice because of threat of being arrested for not having papers. Mr. Smit reassured everyone that no police officer will ask for papers if it is realised that the person (victim) is undocumented as long as he or she does not commit crime and appeal to the public that people should not be afraid to report injustices based on violations of basic human rights, be it domestic or public more so when the victim is undocumented. He added that if a person is brought to the police and we find out that the person did not commit the said crime but he or she is illegal, we shall let him or her go free. This, he said is a binding statement because it was firm instruction from the mayor who is the boss of the police in
Mrs. Elvira Sweet observed the connection between the social economic situation of the people and crime rate as a factor which is why the local council (Stadsdeel Amsterdam zuid oost) decided to embark on various projects and programmes to elevate the status of its citizens thereby investing in the people. She was proud to say that the council is the most multi-cultural community in the whole country. This task was given to Mr. Jude Kehla-Wirnker who laid out the plans as follows:
The question of undocumented benefiting from this programme was raised and Mr. Kehla made it clear that there is little they can do except get them registered in ROC to study. The other programme is the “Ondenermers Huis” (entrepreneurship) for people who want to set up businesses that can come forward and get professional, financial, advice etc help to start their own businesses.
The issue of people who have been in the country for long time (years), but did not ask for asylum and therefore not qualified for the general pardon was addressed. It was generally agreed that these groups need to be looked into because most possess skills and can help in the labour market. This will definitely be pushed forward to the Local councils and the Government of the
It was concluded that this meeting between the police and the community will be held on regular basis to target other sectors of the community like youth, women etc
The police Mr. Smit, Amsterdam Stadsdeel Zuid Oost, Chairwoman Mrs. Elvira Sweet and Mr. Jude Kehla thanked the organiser and initiator of the meeting, Africa Roots Movements and those that took their time to grace the occasion. Chairperson of the organisation, Mr. Thomas Moore and Deputy Overseer, Mr. Sola Elijah also thanked the Police, Local Council Officials and the general public for their orderly manner which made the event peaceful and successful.
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