Are Antwerp's street patrols justified?
Antwerp is starting door-to-door searches in problem city districts in a bid to cut crime and improve city living conditions. Are such tactics justified? Aaron Gray-Block reports.
Despite efforts to reduce crime rates in Antwerp, the city council admits that almost 20 percent of the population still feels unsafe.
Antwerp's door-to-door searches have raised privacy concerns
Neighbourhood disturbances remain a problem and residents are annoyed by mess and aggressive road behaviour.
In response, Antwerp Council recently approved the 'Safety City Plan' to further reduce crime and boost the public perception of safety.
Antwerp's new safety plan involves a controversial operation to keep closer tabs on some of the city's residents.
Teams of four public servants will soon start systematically checking the identity and living circumstances of residents in various city districts.
The data gathered will be sent via email to other government authorities with a request to take action where necessary. The policy has been dubbed 'Armed Management'.
Inspection teams will consist of public servants from the city's safety, population and housing departments, plus the OMCW social welfare institute. Police will not conduct the door-to-door checks.
Public servants will request approval to enter a house and guarantee privacy, but the data will be registered and sent to other authorities where necessary.
The email addressee will not gain insight into emails sent about the same person to other government authorities. Only Antwerp will retain oversight of the complete dossier.
Who is being targeted?
Foreigners with inadequate Dutch language skills are a prime target of the searches. Their dossier will be sent to language institute Huis van het Nederlands with a request for the immigrant to be enrolled in an integration course.
If a resident is unemployed, their dossier will be sent to the federal government's employment service RVA. If someone does not have valid identification, public servants will conduct a background check.
The map shows some of the 'hotspots' targeted in the city searches
Authorities may also turn over illegal immigrants to the federal immigration service DVZ.
Antwerp will not hesitate either to take legal action against landlords if tenants in inspected premises are paying an inflated rental price.
Residents can refuse to co-operate, but the Flemish Parliament has given the city mayor authority to investigate the condition of the premises.
Privacy, discrimination concerns
The League of Human Rights in Belgium says the plans cannot be reconciled with the right to privacy. It will not hesitate to take any "necessary steps" to thwart the council's operation.
*sidebar1*It raised concerns about the gathering of information, the possibility that refusal to co-operate might lead to intensified suspicion and the fact the information will be shared with other government departments.
City green (Groen!) councillor Johan Bijttebier has lodged an official complaint with the privacy commission.
Bijttebier voted initially in favour of the city's safety plan — including the door-to-door inspections — but now regrets that vote.
He says the possibility immigrants might be deported because of the door-to-door searches was not included in the original proposal.
The equal opportunities bureau CGKR has demanded that if a street is inspected, every house on that street must be inspected also.
Several Antwerp organisations and lawyers joined together in the action group Basta (Stop) earlier this year to publicly protest against the searches.
Antwerp's new safety plan is aimed at combating burglaries, thefts from cars, violent thefts, youth criminality, social unrest and traffic sa