German and Dutch police cooperating

Development aid

No country is so great that it can’t learn from others. For many issues, some countries have found better solutions than others. The time may soon arrive that development aid should be extended to every nation in the world, including those who consider themselves to be developed. The aid can be about improving democracy, health care, the police force, or something else like urban planning or dealing with drug addicts. It is already happening, but it can be done far more often. That isn’t easy because such reforms often fail on cultural issues.

Technological innovations spread much easier than social innovations. History and culture play huge a role in how a country came to handle a specific social issue. Development can only be successful when those who receive aid are capable and willing to work with new ways of thinking. So if a certain country is planning to copy an idea from another country, it may be good to think of how the proposed solution fits within existing customs and beliefs within the country itself, or how those customs and beliefs can be altered.

Developed countries like the Netherlands may benefit from development aid too. For decades the Dutch police have difficulties in solving crime. In 2002 the University of Nijmegen compared the police performance of the Netherlands and Nordrhein-Westfalen, a German state that is comparable to the Netherlands with regard to the number of inhabitants and the number of crimes committed. The research showed that the Dutch police only solved around 20% of the reported crime while the German police solved around 50%. In 2016 this issue still persists.

As of 2007 registered crime rates in the Netherlands went down. Dutch prisons are underutilised while Belgium and Norway were renting excess Dutch prison space. Government bureaucrats are eager to frame this positively but the question remains why so much crime remains unsolved. Police officers also believe that there are incentives to under-report crime built into the system so that the statistics may not be reliable. As a consequence many citizens don’t bother to report small crimes as they feel that the police won’t take action, which makes the statistics appear even rosier. Perhaps it is time for a different approach. Why not let the Germans help to improve crime detection?

This is easier said than done. It affects politics, police organisation as well as police culture. The German police have more crime detectives while the Dutch police are more visible on the streets. Political choices determine police force priorities and these differ in the Netherlands and Germany. Still, it may well be that the Dutch police and politicians can learn a lot from Germany. After all, solving crime is one of the most important tasks of the police, and society may be safer when criminals are in prison instead of roaming the streets.