“Do I have a criminal head then?” A woman in her fifties, pink sweater and black leggings, reacts quite a bit when she is kept at the height of the pedicure shop by two confrontations. They want to search her for weapons.
“Is that just okay?”
One of the cases explains that the shopping center and the surrounding area is designated as a “security risk area” – and that a search is therefore allowed, yes.
Resignedly, the woman spreads her arms. “Okay, but no cameras.”
Last Thursday, the Waterlandplein in Amsterdam-Noord was the setting for a much-discussed trial. For the first time in more than seven years, the Amsterdam police searched passers-by for weapons. With that hope, Mayor Femke Halsema hopes to achieve knife violence among young people.
The controls were preceded by a long political struggle. Unlike the elderly in the country, preventive frisking is extremely sensitive in Amsterdam. Halsema’s guardian Eberhard van der Laan stacked the random weapons checks in 2014; they will be minimally deterrent because the penalties for gun ownership are low.
There is a left-wing majority in the municipality. They point out that preventive searches give the police time and money and little: results show that an average of ten to fifteen weapons are found per thousand searched. Above all, say the top ones, gun controls lead to ethnic profiling: the above-average often sustaining burgers with a migration background. The left-wing council, led by GroenLinks, even put in black-and-white in the coalition agreement that preventive frisking would no longer take place in Amsterdam.
Mayor Halsema, who is responsible for safety and public order, thinks otherwise. Together with police chief Frank Paauw, she is concerned about the violence in the city, especially in Amsterdam Southeast, which in recent years has caused several young Amsterdammers to mess up their lives. If weapons controls help in the fight against this, even if it is a little, then so be it.
So Halsema bypasses the council and uses her special powers as mayor to preemptively search for reintroduction. However, she has covered the issue of political sensitivity with all kinds of checks and possible. Thus, it is a trial, which will last only a short time in a limited number of neighborhoods in the city. Afterwards, the municipal office of OIS asks local residents about their experiences and sense of security. On the basis of that investigation, Halsema decides whether the city will continue with the ‘targeted weapons checks’, as the search is now called.
Halsema’s most discussed to the council: ‘who are allowed to come and see every check by the police, really a select skin color and not based on skin color, age or gender.
This included boosting police unions, which observers see as a movement of mistrust. And so the searching officers on the Waterlandplein this afternoon are not only being watched by three civilian observers, but also by an envoy from the police unions, Xander Simonis. “We also make an evaluation,” says Simonis, chairman of the ANPV union. “For the same money you bring in anti-police people with those civilian observers. While a safer Amsterdam does depend on this trial.”
Folder with explanation
In the raft, the checks proceed in a well-considered manner. The officers – in pairs on the corners of the square – stop every fifth person. The fifed burgers are a bit surprised at first, but have most understandings for the controls. Afterwards, they are given a leaflet with an explanation.
Also read Christiaan Weijts’ column about preventive frisking: Killers of the day after tomorrow
After an hour the counter is at zero weapons – perhaps unsurprisingly in a large square in broad daylight and officers not exactly hidden. “When you see such a police force, you turn around for a while,” says an officer.
If the move to the just behind the shopping center, it is hit. A friendly gentleman in his sixties turns out to have a small decorative dagger with a curved diagram in the glove compartment of his Mercedes. “Must belong to the previous owner,” he tells the officers. “I really just bought this car.”
“Possession of this dagger is not allowed here,” said the officer. “A knife ban applies in this area.”
The knife is confiscated, the man is fined. He his good mood. “I have been living in the Netherlands for 34 years, and this is the first time that I am being checked for weapons,” he says against the acts as he gets back into his car. “You should be doing this every week. No, every day!”
The observers can follow it all quietly. That does not apply to Jair Schalkwijk of Control Alt Delete, an organization against police brutality and ethnic profiling. He is summoned by a cop to stand across the street.
A version of this article also in NRC Handelsblad of 3 September 2021
A version of this article also in NRC in the morning of September 3, 2021