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Policing Protest and the Avoidance of Violence: Dilemmas and Problems of Legitimacy

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice and Security Volume: 8 Issue: 3,4 Dated: December 2006 Pages: 203-212
Date Published
December 2006
10 pages

A case study is used (protests against the 1998-99 plan to construct the Betuwe rail line in the Netherlands) in order to examine the ways Dutch police attempted to avoid violence and the escalation of force used in managing contemporary protest activities.


The strategies used by the Dutch police in dealing with the protests against the construction of the Betuwe railway line (protestors' occupation of houses to be destroyed in building the rail line) correspond in their main features with the international trend in the policing of protests. Police policies and procedures emphasized the avoidance of an escalation in the use of force and violence and priority to the use of negotiations between the police and protest leaders. The strategies used by the Dutch police successfully avoided violence, although there were tensions between the police and the protestors as the houses were cleared. There were dilemmas, however, that complicated police efforts. These included the need to follow the directives of the authority over the police while maintaining police organizational and professional autonomy and flexibility in implementing the directives. There was also the dilemma of needing to be transparent with police policies and tactics and to accept accountability for police actions, while also avoiding political blame for failures. In addition, there was the dilemma of needing to be effective in achieving self-directed police objectives while maintaining a professional neutrality toward all parties involved in the conflict. This case study shows how difficult it can be for the police to find adequate approaches in addressing these dilemmas. In the course of this case study, researchers observed police activities; and interviews were held with police officers, public officials involved, officials in other relevant organizations, activists, and citizens living near the railway construction site. 17 references

Date Published: December 1, 2006