NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 13:16
Brian van der Bol
Brian van der Bol
Rotterdam will cooperate with citizens in combating violence by young people. The city is struggling with major and growing youth problems: last year, young people were involved in 181 serious violent incidents, such as shootings.
In 2021 there were still 117. Of all suspects of serious violence – such as attacks on houses with explosives or automatic weapons and liquidations – 44 percent in 2022 were younger than 23 years.
Juvenile crime has also become increasingly visible in the port of Rotterdam in recent years. In the first weeks of this year, many young people were again arrested who wanted to get drugs from containers, the youngest detainee was only 14 years old.
According to the Public Prosecution Service, Rotterdam South in particular, where many vulnerable young people live, is overrepresented. The extortionists often come from families with debts or family members who have also chosen the criminal path.
It is high time to tackle the youth problem at the root, according to the municipality, police, the Public Prosecution Service, youth work and youth protection. They use a method developed in the US to get young people on the right path. This Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program is aimed at actively approaching criminal youths.
The aim of the program is to reduce the number of violent incidents by (youth) groups. “Free, alive and safe”, says the American developer of the method, the criminologist David M. Kennedy. “The essence is that we want to help everyone, whatever you’ve done.” All young people are offered personal assistance, for example in the form of training or a job.
Role models in neighbourhoods
Young people who do not want to be helped should be tracked down and punished, he believes. The intention is to separate captains and hangers-on. Kennedy is in Rotterdam this week to talk about his method and to give tips on how it can best be applied.
According to him, it is important to get “role models” in neighbourhoods. “These are often not community police officers or social workers, because they usually have no natural authority. But, for example, an older woman who everyone knows on the street does deserve respect. If she tells young people to make something of their lives, it often has more effective.”
Declining violence rates
The GVI program was developed by the criminologist in the 1990s and first used in Boston. Cities such as Minneapolis, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit followed later. The number of (gang-related) murders fell by tens of percent in various places.
Glasgow was the first to bring the program to Europe and Malmö followed about five years ago, cities that also suffer from serious youth crime. The results were promising: the number of shootings in the Swedish city halved in barely two years. Youth violence also declined in Glasgow.
It does appear, however, that crime is increasing again after a few years in several American cities. According to Kennedy, this is because the “focus” of governments and the police and judiciary often disappears.
The Rotterdam public prosecutor Loes van der Wees became enthusiastic about the program after she read an article about the approach in Malmö. Although the focus on young people and violence sounds obvious, Rotterdam does need the American view, says Van der Wees. “We now know exactly who to target and how to really get through to young people.”
Who will actively approach those young people and help them on the right path? I do have my doubts about that.
Jan Dirk de Jong, criminologist
The police and judiciary are currently mapping the criminal youth groups in Rotterdam and the surrounding area. The public prosecutor cannot yet say how many there are exactly. She also does not want to say which citizens are being approached in the fight against juvenile crime. The first youth groups should be approached by the summer. The GVI program will run for at least two years.
Criminologist Jan Dirk de Jong, who does a lot of research into juvenile crime and is not involved in the Rotterdam approach, calls the GVI method a “nice theory”. “But what about the practice? Who is going to actively approach those young people and help them on the right path? I do have my doubts about that.”
Kennedy warns that his method isn’t perfect, “but it’s the best we have right now.” “Everywhere we have worked, we have found people who want to break the spiral of violence. The number of incidents has fallen everywhere, there is no reason to think that Rotterdam would not succeed.”
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