Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’settings:
the case of the Amsterdam Red Light District
Edward R. Kleemans
Published online: 24 October 2015
#The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract This paper assesses the empirical evidence on multi-agency collaboration to
reduce crime, uphold justice and improve safety in the so-called ‘Red Light District’in
the city center of Amsterdam, which has been a high crime area for decades. Three
periods are analyzed: crime on the streets (1980s–1996); organized crime behind the
front doors (1996–2007); and reconquering the Red Light District (2007–2011). The
paper analyzes shifts in the definition and framing of central crime problems, causal
assumptions, policy assumptions, and evidence on multi-agency collaboration and
outcomes. Alongside positive outcomes, all three periods contain evidence on how
difficult it is to forge and sustain alliances between government agencies; and to
coordinate a shared focus on a single area and on a single topic. Furthermore, the final
outcomes of these efforts are hard to measure with the exception of visible street crime.
Finally, the paper contributes to the literature on Third Party Policing and multi-agency
collaboration by looking beyond the police as the central actor and by widening the
predominant instrumental focus to normative and political issues such as changing
norms, priorities, and increasing and decreasing internal and external support for certain
policy lines and actions.
Attempts to reduce crime, uphold justice and improve safety in modern cities are
embedded within a wider social and political context. In the realm of policy making,
‘rational’answers to problems are only one part of the story. Policies change and react
to shifting constellations of problem definitions, contemplated solutions, and political
support (e.g., ). Sometimes ‘policy windows’emerge for a different approach to
crime problems, but these different approaches may also be subject to the tide of rising
and waning political support, outside and inside collaborating agencies (e.g., ).
Crime Law Soc Change (2015) 64:247–261
*Edward R. Kleemans
VU School of Criminology, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Faculty of Law, VU
University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HVAmsterdam, The Netherlands
The so-called ‘Red Light District’in the city center of Amsterdam has been a high
crime area for decades. Among the crimes were high rates of street robbery, drug
trafficking, drug use, human trafficking, illegal gambling and organized crime control-
ling real estate and businesses in the area. To a large extent, these problems are
attributed to the high concentration of what is labeled nowadays by the city adminis-
tration as ‘criminogenic’industries, such as (window) brothels, bars, gambling houses,
‘coffee shops’(regulated cannabis-outlets), ‘smart shops’(shops selling legal or semi-
legal drugs) and ‘head shops’(shops selling drug related paraphernalia). Next to
criminal activities, the high concentration of these types of businesses is also related
to problems of disorder and public nuisance, such as public intoxication and violence.
All these issues have a negative impact on feelings of safety and the perceived livability
in the area.
In this paper, we focus on the history of the projects aimed at tackling (organized)
crime and nuisance in the Red Light District. We review existing research covering
three main periods in the history of crime control in the district, characterized by a
shifting focus to different crime problems and different approaches. Our goal is to
assess the lessons and effects of multi-agency approaches to reduce crime, uphold
justice and improve safety in the Red Light District. Our research questions focus on
five different aspects of crime policies:
1. Target: what were the problems these projects were supposed to tackle?
2. Political context: What was the political context in which the projects were
3. Policy-theory: What were the ideological, causal, and efficiency assumptions of the
4. Organization and execution: How were these projects organized and executed?
5. Outcomes: What were the outcomes of the projects?
We review existing research, including evaluation research in which we and col-
leagues have been involved and that is published elsewhere in more detail (e.g., [3,4]).
In chronological order, the successive projects aimed at reducing problems of crime and
unsafety in the districts are discussed. Key points in answering the research questions
for every project are:
–The extent and visibility of crime problems and political attention;
–The choice of priorities and project goals and the various stakeholders’interests;
–The relations between the superstructure (organizational consortia and formal
arrangements and covenants) and the substructure (shop floor collaboration);
–The vulnerability of the alliances of collaborating agencies (varying organizational
interests, operating procedures, lines of responsibility, et cetera);
–The sustainability of these alliances .
In the following section, we will describe three periods in the history of the district:
crime on the streets (1980s–1996); organized crime behind the front doors (1996–
2007); and reconquering the Red Light District (2007–2011) by targeting the
‘criminogenic’infrastructure and increasing collaboration in criminal investigation
and enforcement. The final section presents the main results and conclusions.
248 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
Crime on the streets (1980s–1996)
Target The Red Light District has been a center for prostitution for centuries. While
pimping and an element of Bunderworld^were closely related to prostitution in the Red
Light District and the area had rough edges, historical studies describe the atmosphere
until the 1960s as bohemian, easygoing and sociable. The police kept a certain distance
and public order was largely self-regulating. Major changes emerged after the 1960s.
The sexual revolution led to commercialization of the new openness in the consump-
tion of sexuality with a boom of brothels, sex-theaters, sex-cinemas and sex-shops in
the area. Mass tourism to this ‘sexual amusement park’made the Red Light District an
object of economic speculation .
The introduction of drugs in the area produced even more radical changes. In the
1970s, the heroin trade was controlled by Chinese organized crime. Besides occasional
in-group shootings, the trade had not yet become associated with other crime problems.
This situation changed when a group of Surinamese dealers took over the trade at the
end of the 1970s. They were operating from several bars in the ‘Zeedijk’, a central
street in the area with lots of bars. The increase in the use of drugs attracted large
crowds of users as well as all sorts of other types wanting to profit from the trade, such
as street dealers, couriers, middlemen, lookouts, etc. In the 1980s, the number of heroin
addicts rose to nearly 10,000 (1984) and the city was flooded by ‘heroin tourists’,
particularly from Germany (see for a review: ).
The drug trade was accompanied by a rise in street crime, such as pick-pocketing,
street robberies and tourists being robbed before they received the drugs they set out to
buy. If they were able, bona fide entrepreneurs and tenants left the district and the street
degenerated. The area turned into a no-go area where the police only entered in full
force. In addition to this, the local police force was hit by a huge scandal of widespread
corruption. Police officers were found to be taking bribes from shady entrepreneurs in
the area to turn a blind eye to certain crimes .
Political context Local authorities were unable to tackle such crime problems for
many years. In 1981, carrying knives in the area became prohibited, in 1983 restraining
orders for notorious dealers were introduced, followed by a prohibition of crowd
gathering. A reorganized and Bsanitized^police unit slowly regained control of the
street. However, public outrage among local inhabitants and remaining entrepreneurs
regarding the general criminal atmosphere was still strong. In 1978 the inhabitants of
the district appealed to the Queen to personally end the drug trade. In 1983 the same
group occupied the city council chambers to demand action.
However, of all initiatives, the most influential was taken by local inhabitants and
entrepreneurs. They realized that owning residential property was key to making real
change in the street by setting up an economic recovery plan for the area. A number of
banks and a large hotel chain saw economic potential in the redevelopment of the street.
Reluctantly at first, the city administration joined the initiative, making the change
project a private-public partnership .
Policy theory The goal of the project was to stop the degeneration of the Zeedijk-street
and to improve livability. Reducing drug trafficking and street crime was not the main
goal, but seen as a necessary condition to achieve this end. By buying properties from
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’249
private owners, renovating them, and renting out the ground floor to legitimate
entrepreneurs, the idea was that the negative spiral would be broken. By maintaining
the upkeep of public spaces and by restoring social control among new tenants, it was
anticipated that the street would be less attractive for drug dealers and drug addicts. The
principle was: Bclean behind the front door, clean in front of the front door.^.
Execution and implementation In 1985, the public corporation –NV Economisch
Herstel Zeedijk (Economic Recovery Zeedijk) –was founded and NV Zeedijk started
buying properties. The initial low price of properties rapidly increased with the success
of the project and buying property in that area became more difficult. Nevertheless, in
the beginning of the project, it was difficult to attract entrepreneurs to start a business in
one of the renovated buildings. As an incentive, entrepreneurs were offered attractive
low starting rents. To tackle problems of nuisance and crime, the concept of ‘social
management’was introduced. This meant that new tenants were carefully selected and
screened for integrity. Tenants had to agree to conditions: no sex-related products or
services, no happy hours, no shutters for the shop-window at night and actively
participating in maintaining a clean and livable street .
Effects Sixty percent of the properties on the Zeedijk have been bought by NV Zeedijk
and given a bona fide form of exploitation. Although no academic studies have been
done on the basis of which causality can be attributed to this approach, it is clear that
from the beginning of the 1990s the image of the street changed radically. The street
now has a variety of shops, bars and restaurants and is a popular place for a night out.
Drug dealing and drug addicts have largely disappeared. Effects of displacement to
other streets in the Red Light District were observed, but together with aging-out effects
(of heroin addicts) it would seem drug use, street-dealing and drug-related crime are
largely a thing of the past.
As a result of its success, the NV Zeedijk and its approach are an inspiration for later
projects aimed at tackling crime problems in the Red Light District. This said, however,
one of the conditions for making progress in street renewal was turning a blind eye to the
integrity of investors and real estate owners, as long as they were willing to comply with
the principles of ‘social management’. For example, the director of one of the biggest
coffee shop-chains and an alleged old-school underworld-boss negotiated via NV Zeedijk
with the city council for more favorable conditions for their Bbusinesses^in exchange for
their agreement to sell properties which were necessary for the reconstruction plan [6: 125].
Organized crime behind the front doors (1996–2007)
Target In 1996, the research group Fijnaut reported to the Parliamentary Inquiry
Committee on Criminal Investigation Methods, chaired by Member of Parliament
Maarten Van Traa. The Committee was set up as a reaction to a huge scandal related
to dubious infiltration operations in organized crime groups (the so-called ‘IRT affair’)
and aimed to take a wider view on both criminal investigation methods and the nature,
scale and seriousness of organized crime in the Netherlands.
250 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
The criminological research group reported that Amsterdam was regarded as a
center for both national and international organized crime . According to this
criminological research group, the city was a major center in the world market for
narcotics. In addition to groups from native and immigrant communities, many foreign
groups were active in the (illegal) distribution of (illegal) goods. Some of these groups
had—mainly in the inner city districts and especially in the Red Light District—built up
economic positions of power in real estate, brothels, hotel and catering sector, and in
prostitution. With regard to the Red Light District, the researchers concluded that
criminal individuals and groups had, through their illegally acquired property and
capital, gained practical control of the economic power. As a result, this enabled them
de jure and de facto to decide who can develop what (illegal and/or legal) activities, and
in this way determine to a high degree the level of public (dis)order in this area [7: 126].
The report stated that indecisiveness of the local authorities had created a fertile
breeding ground for illegal and criminal activities in the Red Light District. The report
referred –anonymously to 16 criminal organizations in particular which allegedly had
become key players in this area.
Political context The findings of the Committee, which were extensively broadcasted
in the media, came as a shock to Amsterdam city politics. The political debate produced
an official request to the Mayor and Aldermen to draft an action plan for the prevention
of organized crime, and not wait for the national policies and regulations that were to
result from the Parliamentary Inquiry. The plan of action announced 77 actions to
enhance the defensibility of the city administration against the threat of organized
crime. This approach consisted of a number of instruments, ranging from integrity tests
for civil servants, the purchase of strategically positioned buildings and the refusal or
withdrawal of permits, to the screening of companies competing for major public
contracts. Due to the specific problems in the Red Light District, members of the
Amsterdam City Council emphasized that additional administrative attention should be
devoted to this part of the city center, and instigated the appointment of what came to be
known as a Red Light District manager in 1997. The Red Light District manager and
his team were asked to develop a methodology for the administrative approach to
organized crime .
Policy theory The administrative approach to organized crime formulated by the
city council and further developed by the Red Light District manager was based
on three causal assumptions . First, and following the conclusion of the Fijnaut
research group, it was assumed that real estate plays a crucial role in organized
crime. Real estate transactions can be an element of money laundering schemes.
Proceeds of crime can be invested in real estate. Real estate can be used for illegal
purposes, such as illegal housing or producing cannabis. Owning real estate also
means controlling the type of commercial exploitation of that (especially ground
floor) real estate and therefore to a certain extent, the Red Light District project
was aimed at getting an insight into real estate ownership and regaining control
over the exploitation of property.
A second important causal assumption was the presumed relationship between low
levels of ‘livability’–both in a social and an economic sense –and public safety on the
one hand, and organized crime on the other. It was not only assumed that organized
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’251
crime had a negative impact on livability and safety, but inspired by the successes of the
gentrification of the Zeedijk, it was also assumed that a regenerated Red Light District
would be less attractive for organized crime.
Third, it was assumed that due to administrative backlashes, poor law enforcement,
and lack of interest, public administration in Amsterdam had lost control over certain
areas and economic branches, and had inadvertently provided ample opportunity to
criminals to commit crimes and launder their money. The solutions to this problem
seemed rather straightforward: more accurate information, better cooperation between
the various agencies within the municipality, and better cooperation between public
administration, police, and tax authorities .
Execution and implementation Spearheaded by the Red Light District manager
and his team, the project was officially a multi-agency approach, for which the
police, public prosecution service and tax authority had signed a covenant to
participate and exchange information. By submerging himself in the work of
street-level police and municipal officials and by joining them day and night ‘on
the beat’and talking to entrepreneurs, the Red Light District manager developed
an extensive network in the area. The Red Light District manager and his team
were asked to develop a methodology for the administrative approach to organized
crime. They developed a ‘seven-step-plan’which basically consists of two com-
ponents: first, the collection and analysis of relevant information, and second, the
taking of measures on the basis of this information. Acting on criminal intelli-
gence together with signals the Red Light District manager had received through
his network, localities and businesses considered vulnerable to organized crime
were selected for investigation. Then several steps were taken to get a clear picture
of the ownership and exploitation of the selected properties or businesses, linking
information from public sources, municipal records, and classified information
from the police, judiciary, and tax authorities. With regard to the latter, the project
team was given special authority by the Minister of Justice to have access to
classified police information. The idea was to collaborate these different types of
information to initiate further target action for the maintenance of public order.
Due to the fact that different partners cooperated in the project, a wide range of
measures could be taken: the refusal or withdrawal of licenses and permits, the
levying of taxes, the closure of certain establishments, the instigation of a criminal
investigation, and under certain circumstances, the acquisition of real estate by the
city itself, in order to prevent criminals from investing their money in specific
Effects The most direct impact of the appointment of the Red Light District
manager and his actions for the Wallenproject was the creation of a legal basis
for the exchange of information in a multi-agency context and producing a toolkit
for an administrative approach to tackle organized crime. The project and meth-
odology were as yet too young to expect visible effects on the problem of
organized crime in the district. Furthermore, an evaluation of the project showed
a strong dependency on the Red Light District manager and his extensive personal
network in the area. For this reason, it was decided to prolong the Wallenproject,
as part of the wider Van Traa project .
252 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
The Van Traa project
Target In 2000, 3 years after the start of the Wallenproject, the name of the project was
changed into Van Traa project (named after the chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry
Committee) and its scope was extended to the city of Amsterdam as a whole. The
approach developed for the Red Light District was to be used to target problems of
organized crime in various vulnerable areas and sectors in the city. The application in
the Red Light District was to be continued and implemented in the regular adminis-
trative procedures of city administration.
Political context On a national level, the Ministry of Justice was still busy
implementing the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee. New
laws were drafted. Combating organized crime still had a high national priority. The
city of Amsterdam was seen as a front runner in developing an integrated, multi-agency
approach to organized crime. Delegations from other cities, the Parliament, other
countries and even the Council of Europe visited Amsterdam . The Van Traa team
organized excursions in the Red Light District to show this novel approach, which was
already regarded as a success by the city administration.
Policy theory As in the Wallenproject, the Van Traa project assumed a relationship
between low levels of livability and public safety on the one hand, and organized crime
on the other. Due to this proposition, for a long time the main focus of the adminis-
trative approach to organized crime has been on deprived areas and marginalized
Execution and implementation In the Van Traa project the methodology developed
by the Red Light District manager, was also applied to other city districts and in
specific economic sectors, which on the basis of varying information and assumptions
were seen as vulnerable to organized crime. While the Van Traa team was spearheading
these new projects outside the Red Light District, the responsible agencies of the city
center council were supposed to take over their application in the Red Light District. In
2003, the BIBOB Act came into force, making it legally possible to refuse or revoke
licenses on the basis of a serious cause for concern that these would be used for
criminal purposes. In addition to using its own methodology, the Van Traa team also
coordinated the implementation of the BIBOB Act on behalf of the city of Amsterdam.
Effects In 2005, the results of an evaluation study of the Van Traa project were
published . The report observed that 56 properties had been acquired in the inner
city and were given a bona fide exploitation, four illegal casinos had been put out of
business, about 20 licenses for bars and restaurants had been refused or withdrawn,
several bars had been temporarily closed, the ownership and financial structure of
whole city blocks and economic sectors had been screened, and a structure for the
regulatory enforcement in the Amsterdam harbor had been created. Last, but not least,
preventative screening procedures for issuing licenses and providing subsidies had been
Due to the fact that the city administration had hardly any specific tools to fight
organized crime until the BIBOB Act came into force, some of the city’sinterventions
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’253
came down to calculated ‘administrative harassment’. Only after the BIBOB instrument
became available, could the administrative approach to organized crime become really
effective. The city administration started to apply the law on the sectors of hotels,
catering, prostitution, gambling establishments, and construction. An internal evalua-
tion showed that in the first 5 years, 4,400 permits were checked, 300 files were
selected for further study (180 in the center district), 80 were sent to the national
BIBOB agency, which concluded that there was a serious threat in 60 cases, resulting in
30 permits being refused or revoked .
Without a baseline assessment of organized crime in the area fit for this purpose and
due to the lack of a reliable assessment of organized crime by the police, it was
impossible to determine to what extent these measures had decreased the problem of
organized crime . Reliable conclusions on causality require experimental research
designs or statistical analyses. Since criminal entrepreneurs generally try to hide the
illegal nature of their business, these methodological requirements cannot be met when
evaluating the effects of measures on organized crime. Due to the difficulties of
acquiring data, Levi and Maguire  argue that for organized crime it remains largely
a matter of belief that there is some effect.
As mentioned earlier, the project assumed a relationship between low levels of
livability and public safety on the one hand, and organized crime on the other. Targeting
organized crime should therefore lead to a decrease in street crime. The municipal
safety plan 2007–2010, however, reported that 560 high frequency offenders are active
in the city center. Pick-pocketing and street robbery remain a problem in the Red Light
District. According to the plan, the types of businesses in the area amass problems of
disorder and crime. In the Objective Safety Index the area is qualified a ‘relatively
unsafe’. In the period between January 2009 and July 2010, CCTV cameras registered
hundreds of crime incidents in the area. Nevertheless, since 2003, registered crime has
decreased by 68 % in the Red Light District [20: 104]. This might indicate a correlation
between the problem of organized crime in the Red Light District and the problem of
street crime, although McCord and Tewksbury  found that it is the presence of
sexually oriented businesses which relates to increased levels of crime in a community.
One of the greatest challenges in the project was the interpretation of the collected
data. Can indications of money laundering or other organized crime-related activities be
inferred from an overview of property leasing and letting, together with the financing
and exploitation of properties? The instrument developed did provide for the collation
and analysis of data, but did not provide for the assessment of the results: no indicators
have been developed to determine what degree risk exists that certain observed
constructions indicate criminal activity. In practice, it was usually information from
the police and judiciary concerning the person involved that was decisive in determin-
ing whether organized crime can be assumed.
Although the police and the public prosecutor’s office were officially partners in the
project, and the covenant created a legal basis for information exchange, relevant
criminal intelligence was not always provided for two reasons: 1) on the shop-floor
level of the criminal investigation units many police officers were reluctant and
suspicious to share criminal intelligence with non-police partners and 2) strategic
policies of the Van Traa team and police were not aligned whereby criminal investiga-
tions were not producing the kind of information that could be used for preventative
purposes by the city administration.
254 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
While ostensibly being a multi-agency effort, the actual collaboration scarcely
reached the level of real joint action. With the exception of the Van Traa team, the
contribution of most actors is better typified as cooperation without engagement. The
existence of a specialized team dedicated to the prevention of organized crime served as
an excuse for others to refrain from becoming involved. Despite the fact that in the
policy plans the necessity of a multi-agency approach was stressed, the external parties
seemed to take the position that they were merely assisting the public administration in
preventing organized crime. The implementation of the project in the city’sstandard
procedures did not meet expectations .
Reconquering the Red Light District (2007–2011)
Target According to a report by the Van Traa team in 2007—BLimits of law enforce-
ment: New ambitions for the Red Light District^—the policies described above were
not enough to have a serious impact on the problem of organized crime in the inner city
center. The area remained attractive to organized crime and continued to offer a
‘criminal infrastructure’due to the high concentration of ‘criminogenic’sectors such
as (legalized) brothels, (regulated) cannabis coffee shops, smart shops, gambling
establishments, bars and so on. Labelling certain sectors as ‘criminogenic’and sug-
gesting substantial reductions in size, may be considered to be an important turning
point in the history of a city that is widely known for its tolerant attitude regarding
This conclusion was in line with the ambitions of the city administration to bring
about a major and far-reaching functional transformation in the Red Light District.
Their goal was to Bregenerate the district into a worthy entrance area to Amsterdam as
one of the world’s leading cities.^[20: 281] This grand plan involved nothing less than
a substantial reduction in the number of buildings used for window prostitution and
coffee shops, and redeveloping the bottom segment of the hotel sector by enabling
legitimate investors to buy up dubious hotels. The City Council’s proposals suggested
that this component of the policy to achieve the envisaged functional change in the city
center would require a 40 % reduction in the number of window brothels, from 477 to
293 windows, and a reduction in the number of cannabis coffee shops from 76 to 50
Political context An important part in the political context of the new problem
definition was played by the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam –who is Deputy Prime
Minister of the country at the moment of writing –who published a book entitled
‘Envisions of the future of the inner city’. In this book, he attacked the typical
tolerant Dutch attitude towards prostitution and took a radically different position:
that no woman chooses this profession voluntarily and that the city should not
facilitate human trafficking. Referring to Red Light District, he is very clear about
his ambitions: B…rather one tourist attraction less than being accomplice to the
trafficking of women.^.
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’255
In the same time period, a notorious police investigation, the so-called ‘Sneep’case,
showed how violent pimps were still able to exploit women in the legalized prostitution
sector. Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000, but this case showed how
German pimps came over to Amsterdam with some prostitutes and gradually took over a
significant part of the Red Light District, using other pimps, bodyguards, and prostitutes
to extend their business. It was clear that legalizing prostitution had not eradicated
human trafficking, as some proponents of legalization had hoped. As particularly violent
activities were demonstrated in this case, human trafficking related to prostitution
rocketed to the top of the local and national political agenda (e.g., [4,18–20]).
Policy theory In 2007, the city of Amsterdam launched a project called ‘Project 1012’,
named after the ZIP code of the inner city of Amsterdam, including the Red Light
District. The policy theory was that the high concentration of bars, coffee shops,
brothels, and other drug- and sex-related venues function as a ‘criminogenic infrastruc-
ture’. Since the capacity of public administration and enforcement agencies is limited,
the goal of this project is to reduce the size of this criminogenic infrastructure by
substantial reductions of certain sectors (attracting the wrong kind of people) and
zoning. As mentioned before, the proposals referred to a 40 % reduction in the number
of window brothels, from 477 to 293 windows, and a reduction in the number of
cannabis coffee shops from 76 to 50. Furthermore, zoning regulations aim at concen-
trating prostitution in certain areas, which also means that other areas and main ‘tourist
arteries’become prostitution free. The main aim is to attract different types of tourists,
other types of businesses, and other types of investors to the Red Light District, e.g.,
middle-aged and middle-class tourists visiting the historical city center for museums,
shopping and fine dining instead of backpackers, bohemians and bachelors visiting
bars, coffee shops or brothels.
Execution and implementation One of the main activities of Project 1012 consists of
buying real estate by an alliance of banks, public housing corporations and the city
administration. Some of these properties are bought from owners who know their
licenses will probably be revoked (as a result of BIBOB-screening) and from owners
of premises with activities that will no longer be possible in the near future due to
zoning plans regarding e.g., prostitution areas. Furthermore, brothels and coffee shops
are closed due to results of BIBOB-screening. All operators of brothels and coffee
shops had to apply for a new license and some of them did not pass the BIBOB-test.
Particularly the zoning plans and the reduction in size of the prostitution sector and
the coffee shops led to resistance by owners who have vested interests in the Red Light
District. Also, operators of brothels and coffee shops who lost their license made
objection to these decisions. Significantly, since whole economic sectors are subjected
to preventive measures such as the BIBOB screening, mainstream entrepreneurs in
these branches feel indirectly criminalized, according to research conducted by the
Amsterdam Region Business Association . In addition, entrepreneurs are
confronted with a lot of extra paperwork and costs. This led to protests by the
Amsterdam Region Business Association and representatives of the liberal party in
the city council, claiming that the execution of the BIBOB Act has apparently cost the
entrepreneurs of Amsterdam 1.1 million Euro and is believed to have damaged the
256 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
Effects It is difficult to make an assessment of the final results of this project since the
project is still running. Project 1012 is planned to take ten years. Second, some of the
plans were not executed as intended. The economic crisis and some other financial
setbacks forced the city of Amsterdam to reconsider their financial priorities. Buying up
property is costly and some of the private parties involved in the project also had to
reconsider priorities due to the economic crisis’sprofoundeffectonrealestateand
investment options. Moreover, due to inaccurate financial planning, the project is
costing more than the city can afford and it is therefore, slowing down.
Target In addition to Project 1012, the city administration, Amsterdam police force,
Public Prosecution Service, Tax Administration, Ministry of Finance, Home Office and
the Ministry of Justice agreed to start a new, collaborative project. As was already
concluded in the evaluation of the Van Traa project , many parties worked together
to combat organized crime, but usually took the form of cooperation without engage-
ment. This did not lead to a truly integrated approach to organized crime as it was
envisioned . For this reason, project ‘Emergo’was launched in 2007. Emergo had
two goals: first, close collaboration supported by research and analysis to gain an
understanding of how criminal power is concentrated and the underlying criminal
opportunity structures in the Red Light District; and second, to use the obtained
information to take specific action through a combination of administrative, fiscal
and criminal law enforcement, to seize every possibility to break these concentrations
of power and opportunity structures, and prevent future recurrence. To a certain extent,
these two goals are interrelated, since priorities in criminal investigation and enforce-
ment shape the knowledge about criminal activities in an area. If agencies do not
investigate certain activities or arrange collaborative enforcement actions, knowledge
and information about criminal activities will remain limited. One type of Emergo
activity focused on criminal investigation, while the other focused on combined
enforcement actions .
Political context There was high political priority on a national level f or the Emergo
project, since all major parties had signed the new covenant and all parties, including
e.g., the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the city of Amsterdam, the police and the
Tax Department, had a commitment to fulfill.
Furthermore, as already mentioned, the ‘Sneep case’and the violent activities that
were demonstrated in this case, resulted in human trafficking related to prostitution
becoming a top priority on the local and national political agenda.
Policy theory The policy theory of Emergo was similar to the policy theory of Project
1012: BBy limiting this criminogenic infrastructure and therefore making it less
In 2011, only one ‘window’was acquired. In March 2013, the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool reported
serious financial problems which could threaten the execution of Project 1012.Asscher stressed the difficulties
of ‘re-conquering’the Red Light District from organized crime and that this would require ‘adeepbreath’(see
among others, interviews with the former council member in Het Parool d.d. 29-2-2012, and Trouw d.d. 30-
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’257
obscure, organized crime will have fewer opportunities and there will be more oppor-
tunities to control this crime effectively in a preventive and repressive way.^[20: 292].
However, Emergo mainly focused on the ways in which criminal investigation and
collaborative enforcement actions could contribute to this goal.
Execution and implementation Emergo was a 4-year project with a sizeable, albeit
limited budget, but still dependent on the priorities and capacity of the collaborating
agencies. Overall project control was exercised by a steering group and a project team
with representatives of all involved agencies. One team was concerned with criminal
investigation (the Serious Crime group), and the other with collaborative surveillance
and control (the Enforcement Group). A small group of researchers assisted in analyz-
ing problems and data. The initial phase of Emergo was time-consuming and it took
considerable time for the project to gain momentum (see for more details: [20: 284–
285]): BOne reason was the project’s organizational complexity. After all, the
cooperating organizations and agencies are largely autonomous, and none regarded
Amsterdam’s city center as a unit of territorial organization. This meant that before the
project, cooperation had been the exception rather than the rule.^Another problem
related to the lack of a clear legal framework for exchanging information, which took
about a year to accomplish. A third problem was the lack of proper, up-to-date police
analyses of crime problems in this area. To a certain extent, the project had to start from
scratch and could only produce more insight by stimulating criminal investigations and
enforcement actions by the collaborating agencies.
Besides intelligence gathering and the exchange of subject-based information for
administrative interventions, six large criminal investigations were started in areas such
as money laundering, the drugs trade, and human trafficking [20: 285–296]. Particu-
larly the collaboration in human trafficking investigations showed that increasing
collaboration between the city of Amsterdam and the police had been successful
. A common problem for the city of Amsterdam is that criminals often use ‘straw
men’as a method of circumventing the license criteria since a bogus man without a
criminal record may successfully apply for a license. Wiretaps by the police, however,
illustrated that as soon as any problems arose –such as a letter arriving from the tax
authority or the local government –the ‘straw man’immediately called his real boss
and discussed these problems with him. This evidence made it possible for the local
government to withdraw licenses. Other evidence revealed that direct negotiations
about rooms took place with pimps (rather than with prostitutes) and that a café was
used as a meeting place for pimps, where they could monitor their prostitutes in the
alley via the café’s surveillance cameras. The tax authority also invested time and
energy in human trafficking investigations (primarily by attending meetings), but to
little effect, except for providing information about the income and property of
Effects It is difficult to assess the direct effects of the Emergo-project: BIn some cases,
such as trafficking in women, the link is clear. In other cases the link is less conspicuous
and less direct, but no less important, such as in the action against illegal and some
legal hotels, against certain coffee shops and bars, and against the massage parlors.
The opportunities for serious organized crime, and for plucking the fruits of such
crime, were curtailed in these ways.^[20: 291]. As was the case with the Van Traa
258 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
project, direct results of a project can sometimes be assessed, but assessing the effects
on (organized) crime is very difficult.
In this paper, we described three periods in the history of the Red Light District as well
as shifts in the definition and framing of central crime problems: crime on the streets
(1980s–1996); organized crime behind the front doors (1996–2007); and reconquering
the Red Light District (2007–2011).
First, four aspects of these shifts in the definition and framing of central crime
problems should be noticed:
–From drug related street crime to organized crime, money laundering and sex
trafficking. During the first period drugs dealing, drug addicts and related crime
and nuisance were the main problems, but this shifted over the years to organized
crime, money laundering and sex trafficking.
–From crime on the streets to crime behind front doors. During the first period crime
and nuisance problems were visible and directly victimizing the public. This
shifted to crime problems behind the front doors, which are barely visible and
lead only to indirect or abstract victimization or victimization of ‘others’((immi-
–From ‘criminal’to ‘criminogenic’. During the first period criminal activities were
clearly criminal according to the Criminal Code, but this shifted to a debate about
‘criminogenic’activities that allegedly provide the breeding ground for criminal
–From an instrumental discourse to a moral discourse. During the second period
there was an instrumental focus on the development of administrative tools to
prevent organized crime. During the last period, the discourse involved more
normative arguments, particularly regarding sex trafficking and the fact that the
city of Amsterdam should not be an accomplice to sex trafficking. In a traditionally
‘tolerant’city, in a country that has legalized prostitution, this was quite a sudden
Second, there was also a shift in causal assumptions. During the first period, the
main focus was on regulating vices in order to transform a criminal market. Particularly
during the last period, regulated vices were increasingly viewed as outlets for organized
crime and curtailing criminogenic industries was viewed as a possible way to curtail
opportunities for organized crime.
Third, during all periods, the main problem was the absence of data and a proper
threat analysis. Much was unknown about criminal activities and active criminal groups
and much remained unknown, as criminal investigations rarely targeted activities and
persons operating in this area in a systematic way. An exception was perhaps the
‘Emergo’-project, but this project also showed how much was unknown. As a result,
priorities of projects could not be based on analysis and were the result of political
priorities and assumptions.
Multi-agency approaches in ‘criminogenic’259
Fourth, all three periods contain evidence on how hard it is to forge and sustain
alliances between government agencies. It is quite difficult to agree to focus on a single
topic by various agencies with different organizational goals. In Emergo, this problem
was circumvented by aiming at different goals, e.g., human trafficking for the police
and the city of Amsterdam, and the hotel sector for the Tax Department. Furthermore, it
is difficult to focus on a single area such as the Red Light District, as these agencies
often focus on a wider area and face competition from priorities of other areas and other
policy problems. Even in Amsterdam, the Red Light District is just one area of the city,
while crime problems in other areas withdraw capacity from participating agencies.
Finally, projects gain momentum due to temporary political priority, but implementa-
tion often stagnates before aims are achieved and devoting capacity to these projects in
the long run is a continually recurring problem.
Fifth, effects of these projects are hard to measure, except for visible street
crime. Visible street crime has been strongly reduced, as is shown by crime
statistics and can be experienced by walking around the district. However, it is
not clear whether less visible forms of crime (money laundering, sex trafficking)
have been reduced, because these phenomena are ‘hidden’problems that can only
be revealed if law enforcement agencies focus criminal investigation priority to
these problems, creating a typical ‘Catch-22-situation’. The result is often decreas-
ing political support for the costly and radical interventions that are largely based
on empirical assumptions and moral attitudes about the power of organized crime
in the district.
These findings are not only relevant for the Netherlands, but also for other countries.
In many modern cities, attempts to reduce crime, uphold justice, and improve safety are
the result of a complex interaction between collaborating agencies and the wider social
and political system. In the academic literature and in policing practice, there is an
emerging focus on Third Party Policing and multi-agency approaches (e.g., [5,24,25]).
Our findings suggest that we should take this interesting issue further by looking
beyond the police as the central actor.
The challenges of multi-agency collaboration are manifold and research should
focus on at least five issues. First, processes related to the political agenda, including
the fact that many crime problems are hidden problems and only reach a sufficient level
of credibility for the political arena after considerable efforts have been made by the
criminal justice system to prove the very existence of a hidden problem (such as human
trafficking in a legalized prostitution sector). Second, these processes can be studied
within the wider political system, but also within the cooperating agencies themselves.
Internal and external political support are equally important to study. Third, these
collaborations relate to shared interests, but research should also focus upon different
goals, work processes, cultures, and policy cycles of cooperating agencies. Fourth, both
formal aspects of collaboration should be studied (including laws and regulations; and
barriers for the exchange of information) and informal aspects (such as shop floor
collaboration). Finally, we should widen the predominant instrumental focus to nor-
mative and political issues such as changing norms, priorities, and increasing and
decreasing internal and external support for certain policy lines and actions. More
critical research into these issues will generate new knowledge about the fragile
character of these collaborations and the reasons why some collaborations succeed
and others fail.
260 E.R. Kleemans, W. Huisman
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