Monitoring and maintaining order in public spaces strengthened by special investigating officers

Police and special investigating officers (commonly known in Dutch as "boas") will be working together in closer collaboration with a view to strengthening the monitoring and maintaining of order in public spaces: from the streets through to open areas. There will also be the increased possibilities for municipalities to hire in personnel from private organisations to work as special investigating officers. This has become apparent from a letter written by Minister Opstelten of Security and Justice to the House of Representatives.

Minister Opstelten wants to permit municipalities from 1 January 2014 to deploy private special investigating officers across the whole ‘Domain I Public Space’. It is already permitted to deploy special investigating officers in connection with parking and general local regulations, but soon this will also cover areas such as upholding the Licensing and Catering Act, public manifestations, fireworks, as well as environmental issues.

According to the security monitor and the evaluation 'The State of the Special Investigating Officers System' from the Verwey Jonker Institute and the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the current system works perfectly well. In a survey carried out by the Radboud University in Nijmegen comparing the situation internationally, it appears that the situation in the Netherlands of deploying new forms for monitoring and maintaining order, both publicly and privately, is similar to that of other countries. Within the existing system in the Netherlands, according to the Minister, a few concrete improvements are necessary in the areas of collaboration, exchange of information and mutual recognition between the various different partners who are monitoring and maintaining order.

In order to make the special investigating officers more easily recognisable, preparatory work is being carried out under the leadership of the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) on a model uniform for special investigating officers of public spaces employed by the municipalities. The aim is to have the uniforms available by 1 January 2014. "As well as good training, a professional special investigating officer should have a professional and recognisable outward appearance, together with a clear set of responsibilities. Both citizens and collaborative partners alike need to know what they can and cannot expect from a special investigating officer of public spaces", said Minister Opstelten.

According to Minister Opstelten, the special investigating officers and the police complement each other and strengthen each other's position. The accent of the monitoring by the municipalities and maintaining order in public spaces lies with quality of life and nuisance factors, while the police have the actual task of maintaining law and order. An intensive mutual collaboration and exchange of information is hereby essential, according to the Minister, but large variations can still be seen across the country as a whole.

For this reason the Minister has asked the National Police Force, in conjunction with the Association of Dutch Municipalities, to set out basic principles that will apply nationwide for the operational direction and mutual collaboration in the day-to-day practise, yet leaving room for local individual arrangements. The National Police Force is planning to announce these basic principles in December 2013 concerning what will be legally permissible and what information will need to be exchanged between the police and special investigating officers. There will then be investigations into how far this will also apply to collaboration with private security personnel.

An important starting point for the deployment of personnel for monitoring and maintaining order is the local security policy. The local triangles, comprising the mayor, the police and the Public Prosecution Service, need to consider very carefully what capacity there ought to be for the deployment of personnel for monitoring and maintaining order, in light of the local situation. They will also look into the best ways in which to deploy the privately hired special investigating officers responsibly and safely.  This includes the possibility for privately hired special investigating officers to carry handcuffs under certain circumstances, which is already the case, but not to carry weapons such as pepper spray and truncheons. ,, Weapons need to remain only in the hands of the State", said Minister Opstelten.

There are in total just less than 3,600 special investigating officers of public spaces employed by the municipalities across the Netherlands. However, there are large differences in numbers when you compare different municipalities: the four large cities together employ almost one third of all special investigating officers of public spaces, while other municipalities have only one special investigating officer or even none at all.

Besides the special investigating officers, many municipalities also deploy street wardens, street coaches and other supervisors, who hold no authority, and yet they represent a low-threshold method of keeping 'eyes and ears' open in public spaces. Many valuable citizens' initiatives have been started up over the last few years relating to supervision, according to the Minister, such as projects with neighbourhood fathers and neighbourhood watch, as well as collaborative projects between the police and businesses (including the Business Security Warranty). He is currently looking into the best possible way in which citizens can be involved in the supervision of public spaces, whilst fulfilling their desire to make an actual contribution. It was also set out in the coalition agreement that citizens would become more involved in the security policy for neighbourhoods.