More than 'Dutch-DEA' needed in fight against organized crime

Police forensics at Derk Wiersum shooting scene
Police forensic investigators gather evidence where attorney Derk Wiersum was fatally shot in Amsterdam. Sept. 18, 2019Image: Politie Amsterdam

A special anti-drug unit, based on the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will be established in the Netherlands, Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus announced on Thursday after the murder of defense lawyer Derk Wiersum in Amsterdam. But more than that will be needed in the fight against organized crime, Eirk Heijdelberg, director of Willem Schrikker Youth Protection, said to broadcaster NOS.

Wiersum, a 44-year-old father of two, was shot dead while with his wife outside of their home in the Buitenveldert neighborhood of Amsterdam. The defense attorney died at the scene soon after the 7:30 a.m. incident on Wednesday.

The authorities currently assume that Wiersum was assassinated because he was representing Nabil B., a crime suspect turned informant. B. was giving testimony since last year against the drug-centered criminal organization allegedly run by Ridouan Taghi. B. linked Taghi to eight separate murders, two attempted murders, and preparations for two more assassinations. The suspected offender is a young man between the ages of 16 and 20 years.

With the murder of a defense attorney, organized crime has crossed a new line, is the general sentiment in The Hague. Some, including PVV leader Geert Wilders, think that the Netherlands is starting to resemble a narco state. "Organized crime is not making it easy for us", Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during the budget debate on Thursday. This is a complicated fight, but one that we can win, he said. 

One of the new measures in this fight is the 'Dutch-DEA'. Justice Minister Grapperhaus said on Thursday that this unit will focus on production and supply channels. The anti-drug brigade will fall under the National Police, and will include members with specialized knowledge about drug gangs. The idea is that this unit will be the link between digital detectives, other police services in the Netherlands, and the investigative services in other countries. 

In a report on drug crime in Amsterdam released last moth, researchers Pieter Tops and Jan Tromp called for a more structured and less fractured approach from authorities. According to the researchers, the Amsterdam drug trade has an annual turnover of billions of euros, and hardly anything is in the way of the criminals behind it. This Dutch-DEA seems to be a response to that report. 

Tops and Tromp also said that more attention should be paid to the bottom of the criminal pyramid - young people. Erik Heijdelberg of Willem Schrikker Youth Protection agrees. He was shocked, but not surprised by the fact that a boy in his late teens is wanted for Wiersum's murder. "We have seen this developing for years. It was almost a step you could wait for. We will see this more in the coming years", he said to NOS. Politicians called Wiersum's assassination an attack on the rule of law, but Heijdelberg doubts whether the perpetrator sees it that way. "For him it's just 'putting someone to sleep', as they call it", he said. 

The boys that end up in the drug world all have the same profile, according to Heijdelberg. "They are all young people with a very vulnerable background from poor families with little parenting power from their parents." The government must also look for a solution there, he said. "In our neighborhoods we need to strengthening the parenting culture of parents and schools. The parents of many of these boys are single parents with very low education. They are very weak economically and you should help them with respect."