In Defence of the Police State: Frank Paauw of the Rotterdam Police

by Reidar Visser

Do you wonder why some of the worst excesses of Dutch police have taken place in the Zuid Holland Zuid police district?

Perhaps one explanation relates to the ideology of the police chief of the region, Frank Paauw. Paauw, who is also the head of the Rotterdam-Rijnmond region, is one of the most vocal and blunt proponents of a police state philosophy within the ranks of the Dutch police. Through a series of remarkable media statements, he has propagated a vision of a totalitarian style of policing that would take the Netherlands ever further in the direction of an authoritarian society. Whereas some of Paauw’s statements have generated controversy, it is remarkable how often the Dutch judiciary has agreed with his extremist views.

Maybe a recent police brutality incident in Rotterdam can serve as a good point of departure for understanding Mr. Paauw’s views on the relationship between police and citizen. The episode, which is but one of a myriad of police brutality cases in the rough downtown area of Rotterdam, happened to get filmed on a cell phone and thereby generated a certain media interest.

The published video shows an East European man who is clearly under influence of drugs or alcohol. At the beginning of the film, he is literally holding on to the railings with two police officers standing a few metres away. (He has already been pepper sprayed once.) For the duration of the first 7 seconds of the video it is perfectly clear that the man is concentrating his efforts on standing on his two feet, and is not particularly successful at that. There is no sign of violence on his part whatsoever. One of the two police officers then approaches him and suddenly kicks him twice; this brings him to the ground. For the first 30 seconds of the video, the second police officer is just watching. Only after 1 minute do the officers proceed to put handcuffs on the man although he had clearly been subjugated from the very beginning.

In short, this seems like a very obvious case of excessive violence by the police. Nonetheless, shortly after the incident, the Dutch judiciary proclaimed the violence used by the police to be “proportional”. They claimed there had been violence in the seconds before the video was shot (at least one eye witness denied this), and that an attempt to use pepper spray had been ineffectual.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is the second police officer. If the delinquent was so dangerous, why did he look on passively for a full 30 seconds before assisting his colleague? If the two had manhandled him, surely it would have been easier to arrest him in a reasonably humane way. That, after all, is why they’re always two, is it not?

Enter Frank Paauw, the Rotterdam police chief. Not only did he support his subordinate in this case. He even expressed “irritation” at the press uproar the incident generated!

Paauw’s ideas about the Dutch police being way above the law should not come as a big surprise. He has previously gone on record suggesting that the DNA of all Dutch citizens should be collected for use in criminal investigations. Privacy concerns, he maintained, could not override the priorities of the police. Subsequent to the comments, one of his aides confirmed that it was neither a joke nor a misquote.

When Paauw became chief of the Rotterdam police on 1 October 2010 he made a much-cited speech which perhaps can explain where he comes from, ideologically. In it, he declared that “the police is not your best friend”. Fair enough. But he then went on to add, “the police must be the boss on the streets. That involves things you would not do to your best friend”. That sounds more like a threat.

Neither the subjugation of peaceful delinquent by kicking them to ground nor police stalking is defined as a legal method by the Dutch police law. Perhaps the “boss on the street” maxim, rather than the law, is what primarily governs Paauw’s policies? In his two districts, the police have also been implicated in crimes against humanity (police-led recruitment of children to serve as bullies) as well as outright physical torture (remote taser-like devices used against enemies of the police).

In a broader Dutch perspective, the practices of the police in the Rotterdam and Zuid Holland Zuid districts may stand out somewhat for their brutality, but they are by no means unique. Time and again, Dutch cops get caught on videos while they are beating up peaceful citizens for no good reason. They don’t seem to care, and are almost universally exonerated by the judiciary. No independent police complaint authority exists in the Netherlands.

In 2013 Rotterdam-Rijnmond and Zuid Holland Zuid will unite as one police district in the revamped Dutch police system and Paauw is slated to rule both jurisdictions as a single unit. It will be a big charge for a man with a big police state agenda.