Narco state: is the Netherlands the new Colombia?

 Edition 30 September, by Bárbara Luque Alanís

The title of world champion of drugs is not one that the Netherlands wanted. Is it fair to call it a narco state, like countries such as Colombia or Mexico? How did the government let matters get to this point? First things first, it is known that the Netherlands has an ideal business climate for criminals because of its location and infrastructure. Pieter Tops, professor of public administration at the University of Tilburg, says: “Everything that makes the Netherlands a prosperous and interesting country in the legal economy can also be used for trade and production in the illegal economy”. Second, through the years there has been a “tolerant attitude”, better described as lack of action, in relation to the use and production of synthetic drugs in the country. Is there a way out?

“We are becoming a narco state”, Edward van der Torre, investigator for the Police Academy, said in an urgent appeal to the cabinet in May 2018. According to him, throughout the last 30 years, the Netherlands has put too little effort into dealing with drug-related crimes. The biggest problem the country faces is a failure in investigating, detecting and tackling drug crime. Local police officers have felt helpless and frustrated regarding the subject: “Because the investigation fails, the Netherlands is becoming a narco state. Politics has to wake up and face the fact that there is little or no trace of investigation, and neighbourhood liaison officers are almost begging for more local investigation”, said Van der Torre. This lack of investigative capacity is caused by the small number of officers in the local police. On average, the country has 167 basic teams of 160 officers each, who are focused on solving thefts, neighbourhood surveillance, and emergency assistance, thus taking away priority from drug-related investigations. Hans Hoekman, neighborhood liaison officer for the Rotterdam district of Delfshaven, says that officers experience the consequences of drug-related crimes on a daily basis, mainly through dealers, loitering youths, and drugs nuisance at homes and playgrounds. “We do what we can, but there is a shortage of investigative capacity, and the problem is much greater than what we can handle”, Hoekman said to RTL Nieuws.

Apart from dealing with problems in local police departments, the government must take up the collateral damage from drug crime: illegal moneymaking and the international image of the Netherlands are the main problems to focus on. In 2017, for the first time ever, the earnings from synthetic drugs in the Netherlands were calculated. Researchers estimated a minimum income of 18.9 billion euros from ecstasy and amphetamine, an amount that is in fact higher than the annual turnover of companies such as Philips and Albert Heijn. Based on this study, experts comment that synthetic drugs are a national problem with international consequences for the position and image of the Netherlands. “It is only possible to fight this problem with sufficient, persevering and dedicated capacity and a constantly broad international approach. This has been lacking in recent years’’, they conclude. Is there a plausible solution? Van der Torre says there is: a simple but expensive addition of new neighbourhood liaison officers, especially detectives. Through his call to politics, he tries to ensure that the government realizes the extent of the drug crime problem in the country. “This crime is extensive, growing and flourishing. The government must realize that the police is now in a very weak position regarding the investigation of such crimes”. While promising that money will be put into the matter, a spokesperson for the National Police assured that it knows about local officers’ stories and is trying to ensure that police capacity is sufficient to control the narco state problem. “We are going to invest a lot in the coming period, and a large part of that money will also benefit more investigation capacities”.

Fred Grapperhaus, Minister of Justice, has admitted that insufficient priority has been given to tackling drug crimes. As an immediate solution, his cabinet ensured that 1,100 agents will be recruited annually. Furthermore, the government has allocated 100 million euros to a fund that will counteract synthetic drug production and take up a tough stance against drug crimes.