Crime and the legal system in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is one of the safest countries in Europe with a low crime rate, but as with any country you should still take reasonable steps to protect yourself.
General safety in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very safe country in which to live and many people never experience crime of any sort. The rate of violent crime is low although tourists are often targeted by thieves. Visitors frequently fall prey to pickpockets, bag snatchers, and other petty thieves who target automobiles and hotel rooms.
While thieves may operate anywhere, Amsterdam is a particular focal point for thefts in specific areas. Thieves and pickpockets are very active in and around train and tram stations, in the city centre, and aboard public transportation. Theft is especially common on trains to and from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where hand luggage and laptop computers are often targeted. Thieves often work in pairs; one distracts you, often by asking for directions, while the accomplice moves in on your momentarily unguarded property. The timing of these thefts usually coincides with train stops, enabling the thieves to escape. In addition, there have been reports of the theft of purses and briefcases while eating in downtown restaurants, including hotel breakfast rooms. Never leave your personal items or baggage unattended when going to the restroom, buffet table, etc.
Although still relatively limited, electronic theft has increased dramatically in the Netherlands in recent years. In March 2012, the Dutch Banking Association reported 2011 losses at EUR 92 million – nearly double that of 2010. Most of the theft involved “skimming,” a technique that copies bank card information. ATM and credit card users are advised to keep an eye on their cards at all times. If you feel uncomfortable using your card for any reason, use cash.
Online scams are also increasing in frequency. People are advised via email of a winning lottery ticket, an inheritance, or other offer requiring his or her assistance and cooperation. The intended victim is asked to forward advance payments for alleged “official expenses,” “taxes,” etc. and, often, to come to Amsterdam to conclude the operation. If you suspect you have been targeted by a scam based in the Netherlands, you may report it to Dutch law enforcement authorities by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at the following address:
KLPD, Financial Crimes Unit
PO Box 3016
2700 KX Zoetermeer
Attention: Project Apollo
Regarding more serious threats, the Dutch Government has determined the current terrorist threat level to be 'limited'. According to the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, this level, the second lowest of four levels means that “the chance of an attack against the Netherlands is small, but that it certainly cannot be entirely excluded.
You are encouraged to keep up with the latest news while in the Netherlands and to take steps to increase your security awareness. As with other countries in the Schengen area, the Netherlands’ open borders with its European neighbors allow for the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Demonstrations are commonplace in the Netherlands and may range in number from a few demonstrators to several thousand. Prior police notice is required for public demonstrations, and police oversight is routinely provided. Nonetheless, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Therefore you are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if near one.
Main types of crime and levels by region
The Dutch authorities have made substantial efforts to reduce all types of crime and have achieved success in many areas.
The police registered 1.19 million crimes in 2011 and more than half of these were thefts or burglaries. The highest incidence were thefts from cars, bike thefts, housebreaking, shoplifting and pick-pocketing.
In national terms there were a total of 167,100 criminal cases registered with sub-district courts in 2011, which was a reduction of 13.6 percent on the previous year and continues a long-term trend that has seen figures fall every year since 2004.
In the district courts there were a total of 225,500 cases registered, which was an increase of 8.1 percent on the previous year. However figures have fallen substantially since 2007, when 272,700 criminal cases were registered. The government has said it wants to reduce overall crime numbers by 25 percent.
In the area of traffic offences, which includes all minor offences, like parking and vehicle registrations, as well as speeding, the total number of settlements numbered 9.73 million in 2011. This represents a pattern of reduction since 2007, when the figure stood at 12.64 million.
In regional terms Amsterdam is one of the more dangerous cities to live in, although it is relative to a low overall crime rate. The city had 5,400 registered cases of burglary and theft from houses and also a higher level of car and violent crimes than any other Dutch city. Suffering from the second highest incidence of burglary and theft was Rotterdam with just over 4,000 cases and The Hague was third highest with around 3,700 cases. Following serious efforts to reduce crime, safety in Eindhoven has improved greatly and the city has gone from being the most dangerous cities in the Netherlands to live in two years ago to being sixth.
Bicycle theft has traditionally been a thorn in the side of the Dutch authorities with approximately 750,000 bicycles being stolen every year. The high number is a reflection of the significant rate of bike ownership in the country – approximately 18 million. However, in an effort to tackle bike crime, the authorities have made serious efforts to tackle bicycle theft including registering every new bike in a bicycle registry and making it possible to install a chip on each machine.
Fraud is a serious concern of the government, incorporating tax evasion, real estate fraud, benefit fraud, employing illegal workers and paying for services unofficially, thus avoiding tax and social contributions. The government has estimated that approximately 75 percent of the 1.2 million households that employ domestic help pay for it ‘off the books’.
Penalties in the Netherlands
The three main penalties the court can impose are:
- Custodial sentence
- Community service
Individuals who commit minor offences, such as public drunkenness or traffic offences do not need to go to court and do not incur a criminal record. Custodial sentences are divided into temporary or life imprisonment. Temporary imprisonment ranges significantly, from 1 day to 30 years, while life imprisonment is a whole of life tariff, meaning that convicts can only every be released upon the granting of a royal decree. There are around 30 inmates serving a life sentence.
For more serious offences where there is a criminal record the data will be held for at least 30 years. If the punishment awarded lasts longer than 3 years the period of record is extended by the duration of the penalty, while for sentences of eight years or more the period is extended by 10 years. For sexual offenses, the data is deleted only 20 years after the offender is deceased.
A large number of crimes in the Netherlands are dealt with on the basis of fixed penalty rates. These include those related to traffic offences and noise pollution.
Offences in the Netherlands are classified according to 6 categories with fines ranging from up to EUR 390 for 1st category to a maximum of EUR 780,000 for sixth category offences. The rate of crime is index linked to prices and adjusted every two years. They are next due to be amended in January 2014. The courts may also award damages to the victim of a crime with liability for payment resting with the culprit.
In more serious cases the authorities may seize assets from criminals when it is decided that these are the proceeds of crime. Assets may comprise money, but also cars, houses or other assets. The Pick-it-law provides for the authorities to return the person’s financial position to how it was before the crime was committed.
The courts may also impose community service for minor offences. This is unpaid work and can include removing graffiti or cleaning public areas.
Dutch law provides for heavier punishment in the cases of repeat offenders. Known as ISD measures (Interior Persistent Offenders), they target those who have committed at least 10 offences within the previous 5 years. Thus someone who repeatedly commits offences such as car thefts, burglary, vandalism or shoplifting may face custodial sentences of up to 2 years. However the facilities have the capability for treatment of addiction or psychological problems in an attempt to reduce recidivism.
What to do if you’re a victim of crime
Call 112 for emergency assistance in life threatening situations or when you witness a crime e.g. traffic accident, fire or burglary. The 112 number is the correct number for fire, police or ambulance.
If the situation is non-urgent you can call the national police number (0900 8844). For local fire services use the link to find out the number of your local emergency service.
Victim Support Netherlands can provide legal, practical and emotional assistance to victims of crime after the event. The service is free and has been utilised in both major and minor incidents, including shootings, train and airplane crashes. Victim Support Netherland are contactable on 0900-0101 or 116-006 and its offices are open Monday to Friday (09:00 – 17:00). Staff speak English as well as Dutch.
The organisation can explain how the trial process works and who has which role. Staff can also offer guidance on your options, such as what you can and cannot say at the trial and the possibility of completing a victim statement.
The organisation can also assist in the recovery of damages from the offender through the criminal process by making an application for compensation.
Staff can additionally support victims of crime in a number of practical ways:
- Helping you to fill out insurance forms and other paperwork
- Writing letters to housing associations
- Helping with transportation or calling relatives
- Accompanying you to the police, doctors, lawyers or the court
- Helping you to find specialised help such as a personal injury lawyer
Moreover, Victim Support Netherlands provides emotional support by helping you to come to terms with what has happened, helping you to deal with your children, putting you in contact with other people who have been through a similar situation and helping you to get in touch with specialised medical services (if appropriate).
Well-known laws specific to the Netherlands
There is often some confusion about the situation regarding drugs and prostitution in the Netherlands, perhaps due to the presence in popular imagination of Amsterdam, with its coffee shops and red light district.
Soft drugs, such as cannabis are considered less harmful to health and to society than hard drugs. Coffee shops may sell cannabis under strict conditions - part of the Dutch policy of toleration.
The sale of cannabis in coffee shops is tolerated in the Netherlands, on the condition that the coffee shops observe the toleration criteria. The most important of these are:
- no more than 5 grams of cannabis can be bought by any one person in one day;
- coffee shops must not cause any nuisance;
- they are not permitted to sell hard drugs;
- they are not permitted to sell cannabis to minors;
- they are not permitted to advertise drugs.
Municipalities themselves can determine how many coffee shops can operate within their boundaries. They may also impose additional rules.
The intention is that coffee shops are run as small, private clubs that focus on the local market. In recent years the trade in drugs has grown in scale and has become more professional and commercial. In response to this, the approach to organised drug-related crime has been intensified. Therefore, in order to achieve government objectives, the rules on cannabis and coffee shops are being tightened up:
- only residents of the Netherlands aged 18 years or older will be eligible for membership;
- from now on cannabis with a THC content of 15% or more will be classified as a hard drug.
Non-residents of the Netherlands cannot become a member of a coffee shop and can therefore no longer use them. This has applied in the provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland as of 1 May 2012 and in the rest of the Netherlands from 1 January 2013.
Information on the new members’ system are be available at the websitewww.new-rules.eu.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands as long as it involves consensual sex between adults. Sex workers can work as employed or self-employed workers and must pay tax on income. Accordingly individuals need a valid work permit and a citizen service number (BSN).
The rules vary between regions and municipalities and the government is seeking to introduce legislation that will eliminate these disparities, replacing it with one set of rules. This would also introduce a national licensing system. The latter would allow the government to better supervise the industry and help to tackle such problems as human trafficking. It would also make it easier for the sex workers to come into contact with social workers. If the law is approved it will come into force by July 2013.
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