Preventive approaches to organised crime in the Netherlands

Surveillance camera front of modern building, photo by kalafoto/Adobe Stock

Photo by kalafoto/Adobe Stock

Preventive methods to fight organised crime focus on addressing the underlying causes and factors. Researchers found that preventive instruments tend to focus on situational prevention, and that there is little robust evidence on the effectiveness of these instruments in the field of organised crime.

What is the issue?

Organised crime poses a threat to the security of society and the integrity of public administration, undermining the rule of law and detrimentally affecting people's quality of life.

The Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) of 2021 found that more than 80 per cent of criminal groups use legal business structures in the EU, and another 60 per cent are suspected of involvement with drug trafficking, making the EU by far the largest illicit market in terms of the number of criminals, criminal groups and profits. The Netherlands is said to be one of the main hubs for international drug-related crime. Besides drugs, organised crime in the Netherlands also involves arms- and human trafficking. It has become clear in recent years that organised crime has a disruptive effect on Dutch society and that a greater understanding of preventative measures for organised crime in the Netherlands is needed.

How did we help?

Commissioned by the WODC, this study focused on preventive methods used to fight organised crime by addressing the underlying causes and factors which support it. The research supplements previous evidence on the effects of preventing organised crime by answering the following key questions:

  • Which preventive instruments focusing on organised crime have been evaluated in the domestic and international scientific literature?
  • What is known about the (intended and unintended) effects of the evaluated instruments?
  • What lessons can be drawn for the Netherlands from the domestic and international scientific literature on preventive instruments focusing on organised crime?

This study focused specifically on three activities associated with organised crime: drug production and trafficking, arms trafficking and smuggling, and human trafficking and smuggling.

Through a review of the literature and interviews with experts, researchers examined the available evidence on organised crime prevention and what we can learn from such evidence

What did we find?

Although researchers identified a limited number of relevant studies, the studies contained information on a wide range of preventive instruments. These instruments focused on a variety of organised crime-related factors and activities. Examples of identified instruments include asset-confiscation — with the goal of preventing assets from being used in future criminal activity, restricting individual access to certain products such as chemicals used to produce drugs (for instance by setting transaction thresholds) and empowering potential victims (for instance by initiating education campaigns).

The focus of the identified instruments differed. The large majority of instruments aimed at altering the situational context in which the crime activity (may) occur(s). They were most often aimed at the general population as a whole (primary target group) or at groups more susceptible to becoming an offender or victim (secondary target groups).

The studies included in this review sought to better understand the implementation and effects associated with one or more preventive instruments. However, evaluating preventive instruments is complex, and we found relatively little robust evidence. A number of shortcomings, such as a lack of baseline data and over-reliance on weak or imperfect indicators, barred the authors of the studies reviewed from making statements about the effects of the instruments.

What do we recommend?

  • The lack of evidence on the effectiveness of preventive instruments should not be interpreted as detrimental of the role these instruments can play in tackling organised crime. In recent decades, preventive policies have been part of a broader strategy to tackle organised crime. This is also true for the Netherlands, where legislative and policy efforts have focused on addressing the opportunity structures for criminal activity.
  • Strong(er) evaluation designs are needed to improve the knowledge base and develop more effective organised crime prevention strategies. Experts stressed the need to reconsider the indicators and data sources used in current research, and to incorporate multiple methods in evaluation designs.
  • The perceived obstacles are not unique to the evaluation of organised crime prevention. Perhaps lessons can be learned from approaches in other areas of crime prevention.
  • Overall, more efforts seem necessary to better understand the role and effects of the specific instruments identified and to paint a clearer picture of the impact of preventive efforts in the field organised crime.