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The number of threats is increasing. But is the Netherlands less safe?

Explosions at people’s homes, gangland killings and online threats: if you follow the news, it may seem as though threat levels in the Netherlands are rising. But is that really true? Researchers from Leiden University investigated this and have presented their results in the Dreigingsmonitor (Threat Monitor).

The Intelligence and Security Threat Monitor 2022-2023 (Bedreigingsmonitor bewaken en beveiligen 2022-2023) shows that a wide group in society mainly faces online threats. Although such threats are rising in number, they are rarely carried out. And while the threat from organised crime remains unabated, the number of attacks and gangland killings has dropped. Explosions and domestic violence, on the other hand, have increased.

A picture of current threats

The Threat Monitor offers a picture of current threats in the Netherlands that are relevant to the intelligence and security system. This system comprises the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee. The system is designed to prevent attacks on persons, objects and services. It is triggered if a life-threatening situation arises that cannot be resolved through regular policing.

‘We see lots of sensational headlines in the media about threats,’ says researcher Roy Hofkamp. ‘This affects society’s perception of security. We want to look at the actual threat with enough distance, and use public sources to do so.’

Organised crime, gangland killings and explosions

The Threat Monitor is published fairly regularly to provide a picture over the years. Compared to the first monitor, from 2021 (in Dutch) the researchers can see that although gangland killings are decreasing, their nature is changing, which leads people to feel that the violence is escalating. ‘For example, gangland killings are deliberately committed in front of family members and there is less concern as to whether there are bystanders’, says researcher Stijn van 't Land.

The question, say the researchers, is whether the decrease in gangland killings is related to the increase in explosions. The murders of journalist Peter R. de Vries and lawyer Derk Wiersum received so much attention underworld figures may find it a good strategic move to divert this attention away from themselves. This would lead them to switch to other forms of intimidation.

Digital threats

The number of online threats is huge, say the researchers, and these affect almost anyone who expresses an opinion. These threats are rarely carried out but do have a significant impact on those on the receiving end. For example, someone might decide not to become a judge or a journalist might not write a particular story after all. The intelligence and security system has little to offer here. ‘That’s why there is also discussion on how to reduce these threats and how to increase people’s resilience in dealing with them’, says Associate Professor Jelle van Buuren.

Domestic abuse

The annual domestic homicide rate is high compared to other threat phenomena. A structural pattern can be seen over the past five years, says Hofkamp, of 20 to 50 female homicides. In a large proportion of these cases, the current or former partner is the suspect, and many of these cases also show clear signs of threat in advance, such as stalking and aggression. ‘In the Threat Monitor, we indicate that domestic abuse deserves more serious attention.’

Limits to security

The intelligence and security system faces many different types of threats. This makes it essential to understand how current and new threat phenomena evolve. The Threat Monitor helps here. The clear challenge in the monitor, say the researchers, is the limits to risk prevention. ‘You can never rule out all risks’, says Van Buuren. ‘We have to learn to deal with a certain level of uncertainty.’

Text: Dagmar Aarts

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