Admittedly this is billed as a pilot plan in Rotterdam, but the hope is to roll out a scheme supposedly to intercept thieves by taking clothes and watches from those the police deem could not have gotten them by legitimate means.
It is not hard to see how ludicrous and bigoted this is. The police are going to be in the business of judging…based on what? Age? Haircut? Skin color? Shoes? Where they happen to be?….that someone is “too poor” to be wearing the clothes they are wearing. And that’s before you get to the fact that even if the police correctly deemed someone to be low income, that they could have a rich relative or rich lover who gave them a nice gift, or they saved money to buy one nice outfit, say for job interviews, or they were smart enough to snag upscale clothes at a big discount at a resale store.
The Independent reported on this scheme and its rationale last week:
Police in the Dutch city of Rotterdam have launched a new pilot programme which will see them confiscating expensive clothing and jewellery from young people if they look too poor to own them.
Officers say the scheme will see them target younger men in designer clothes they seem unlikely to be able to afford legally – if it is not clear how the person paid for it, it will be confiscated.
The idea is to deter criminality by sending a signal that the men will not be able to hang onto their ill-gotten gains.
Rotterdam police chief Frank Paauw told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “They are often young men who consider themselves untouchable. We’re going to undress them on the street.
“We regularly take a Rolex from a suspect. Clothes rarely. And that is especially a status symbol for young people. Some young people now walk with jackets of €1800. They do not have any income, so the question is how they get there.”
He said the young men targeted often have no income and are already in debt from fines for previous convictions but wearing expensive clothing.
The claim is that these young men are known suspects, members of a gang. But how often will there be false positives? And how hard will it be for someone incorrectly targeted to get their stuff back?
Aside from the fact that it seems outrageous for people to have to prove to the police that they have title to things they are wearing, the story describes how the record of racist policing in the Netherlands has activists criticizing the plan:
City ombudsman Anne Mieke Zwaneveld told AD: “We realised that [they] do not want to create the appearance that there is ethnic profiling but the chances of this happening are very large.”
She said it would be very legally difficult to prove officers were justified in taking people’s coats in the middle of the street: “It is not forbidden to walk around in the street. In addition, it is often unclear how such a piece of clothing is paid and how old it is.”
Jair Schalkwijk,a spokesman for a national anti-profiling organisation Control Alt Delete, believes the policy is against a previous promise by police not to target people who look like “typical criminals”.
Techdirt added some details yesterday:
The police say they’ll be able to make quick determinations about the legality of… um… clothing by accosting well-dressed youngsters. Presumably, no one will be carrying receipts. The police have used the term “undress” but swear they’ll be focused on items that won’t leave their former owners in a state of undress (watches are mentioned). Then again, the police also say they’ll be packing clothes to hand out to people they’ve disrobed for dressing too richly, so it’s obvious it won’t just be watches being watched…
The law already gives Dutch police permission to forfeit items procured with criminal funds. Over the last decade, the police have expanded these programs to go far beyond perceived kingpins to reach street hassle levels. Dutch law enforcement have been performing “Rolex checks” on young people for three years now, but the recent expansion into Rotterdam (it originated in Amsterdam), coupled with inflammatory “undress them on the street” comments from the Rotterdam police chief, has resulted in a new wave of backlash.
The police refuse to say how they’ll determine rightful ownership of clothing/watches/jewelry they wish to seize. Obviously, the specifics would let “criminals” know what receipts to carry, but also suggests they’re not entirely sure how they’re going to carry this out either. Of course, the method matters less to the police. They don’t have to prove anything. All they have to find is a lack of proof of legitimate ownership. The burden is completely upon those walking around wearing items cops subjectively feel they can’t afford. Given the way this deck is stacked, citizens may as well just hand over “expensive” items the moment an officer approaches them. Why go through all the extra hassle if it’s not going to change anything?
One person who appeared to be Dutch argue in comments that what would make these seizures legal would be to pay a court debt or if they had been stolen, where they would be held “temporarily” during the investigation. The wee problem is that possession is 9/10th of the law. How long does one think these investigations will go on if the police find the supposed perp has no previous arrests and therefore no outstanding fines?
Needless to say, this sounds like a very crude approach that has the potential to backfire. It would also seem designed to worsen relations with communities with a high proportion of immigrants. But maybe harassment is a feature, not a bug.