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Research showed the value of a good police-citizen relationship

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Research showed the value of a good police-citizen relationship

The Netherlands Police are a police that looks for connection. The relationship with citizens is important. Was the Netherlands Police different from foreign police forces? Why didn't the Netherlands have ethnic riots? Otto Adang of the Netherlands Police Academy conducted research into the connecting approach together with other scientists in 2010. "If you don't determine why something is going well, it makes you vulnerable."

In other countries, such as France, Belgium or the United States, riots occurred with ethnic groups. They stood against each other or against the government. There were also events in the Netherlands, but they did not lead to major riots lasting several days. "This was the first major study into the relationship aspect of police work in law enforcement. The Netherlands Police is doing well in the neighborhoods, but we also saw that there were vulnerabilities in the approach. If you have not determined why things are going well, things can simply fade away. In addition, if there is no good substantiation for it, the approach becomes vulnerable in times of discussions about core tasks, capacity and cutbacks", says Otto Adang.

Riots do not happen overnight

Adang: "It may often seem as if something arises in a day, but you cannot separate that from the neighborhood or the relationship with the police. People still meet each other after an event. Apparently things are different in the Netherlands, it does not lead to days of riots." In addition to a comparison with other countries, the researchers also looked at situations in the Netherlands.

But how do you investigate how something didn't happen? "We knew from literature that there was always an action by the police and a response to that action from the population. That is why we have selected situations in which the mayor, police or someone else in the press said: 'this could get very out of hand'. So we looked at where things could possibly get out of hand and were told so."

In the Netherlands, the government, social organizations and Netherlands Police pursue a local and connecting policy

The researchers concluded: "This policy, through trial and error, contributes to relationships that are less conflictual and more focused on cooperation." If there is an incident with ethnic tensions, the working method in the Netherlands focuses on de-escalation. Adang: "So you have to be aware of the relationships. What are they like? Also give yourself time to improve the relationship before something goes wrong. Just because you're in a relationship doesn't mean you never argue. But arguing does not have to lead to violence. That is actually also the case at group level."

These four factors are necessary for a large-scale escalation

The researchers found four common factors from the different situations: the Adang/Horowitz model. All four of these factors are necessary for a major escalation:

  • There is a tense relationship between groups.
  • There is an event that is causing outrage or anger. For example, a situation in which another group in society or the police used violence with serious consequences.
  • The outrage is shared more widely. People get the feeling that the government is not there for them. They see violence as a form of self-defense.
  • There are times to commit violence with impunity as 'us-them' divisions grow.

What can you do about the factors to prevent things from getting out of hand?

The factors then also provide the mirror image: measures to prevent escalation. "That is what the research into the Police Officers in practice is about. As professionals, they can think of what they can do. I know there are team leaders who have these factors on their desk. To look at these factors every time something goes wrong and take action accordingly. For example, with the fourth factor: you must ensure that you do not reinforce the contradictions.

In addition, you must take measures to reduce the possibility of violence. For example: enforcement action, setting boundaries, but not sending the riot police into the neighborhood. 'At that stage, the four strategic principles of crowd management are also very important", says Adang.

The core of what matters: relational thinking

According to Adang, the research has shown that everything the police do has an effect on the relationship with citizens: "I was not aware of any scientific research that showed so comparatively that focusing on connection can be so effective. Most other studies after traumatic events did provide advice, but these were based on retrospective conclusions. The different theories did not come together. That makes it vulnerable. This research provided a perspective. On the one hand, to better understand how it works. And on the other hand, how you can deal with that in practice."

Interpretation of practice: the creation of Allies

The research subsequently found its way into police education. In addition, the line of research continued at the Netherlands Police Academy with the 'Abrasive Differences' study. Researchers take an even more concrete look: what is 'connection'? And what do the first two factors of the model actually mean in practice?

The research was also one of the factors for the creation of 'Allies' in Utrecht. The Netherlands Police look for citizens who can speak for a specific group and exert influence. To establish connections in the neighborhood, in addition to the usual partners such as municipalities and youth workers. "This arose purely from practice. I see it as an interpretation of the research and theoretical ideas", says Adang.

If you let this get lost, it is predictable that things will get out of hand more often

The research described a way of thinking within the Netherlands Police. Being aware of the effects of relationships in your work is important for all officers, not just community officers. "So it is not about more Police Officers, but determining what is important.

If you let the relational police work go to waste, it is predictable that things will get out of hand more often. The fact that 'being in the capillaries' has come under pressure in practice is fraught with risks. That also happened a bit around the corona period. The connection with society was not what you would hope it to be. That led to a number of escalations. But there have also been recent examples where things have not really gotten out of hand. Like with Black Lives Matter. 'That shows that everything you do has an effect on relationships", Adang concludes.


Otto Adang, lecturer in Public Order and Hazard Management, will say goodbye in March 2024. He has been a lecturer at the Netherlands Police Academy since 2004, making him the longest-serving lecturer. His career has included controversial social questions and research. From the football hooligans and the 'Facebook riots' in Haren. Until the introduction of the electroshock weapon and deployment of the Riot Squad.

More information (in Dutch)

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