War on drugs: Local authorities given more power to fight organised crime

War on drugs: Local authorities given more power to fight organised crime
Stacks of cash seized by the Federal Judicial Police in Antwerp. Credit: Belga/ Tijs Vanderstappen

From several explosions startling locals to shots being fired in the northern district, the drug violence in Antwerp has escalated in recent weeks, leaving citizens feeling unsafe. Soon, authorities will be given more clout to tackle such phenomena.

A preliminary draft of the law on administrative enforcement has been approved, meaning local authorities will be given a new and clear legal framework to preventively tackle these forms of violence against economic sectors and activities in which subversive crime manifests itself, Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden announced.

"In recent years, organised crime has increasingly nestled itself in the social fabric. Local authorities know that the only answer is to work together," Verlinden said. The announcement follows criticism that the current approach to the so-called "war on drugs" in Antwerp is ineffective.

"With the Administrative Enforcement Act, we are meeting their demand for preventive measures. This is how we make our towns and cities more liveable and safer: less nuisance, more opportunities for entrepreneurs and less work for the local police," she added.

Investigations and penalties

Antwerp is largely at the heart of the drug crisis as its port is home to the main import stream for cocaine to Europe resulting in competing clans settling in the area, which has become their drug-fuelled battlefield.

As part of the royal decree that is soon expected to be published, local authorities can adopt a police ordinance including the types of businesses through which subversive crime manifests itself in Belgium. This form of crime often has a degrading effect on values and norms, often involving drug production and trafficking.

That way, these businesses and their activities can be subjected to an integrity investigation, and any decisions made following these checks will be included in a new central database. This way, local administrations can verify whether an operation has already been flagged by other authorities.

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If the integrity investigation shows that there is a link between criminal offences related to organised crime and subversive crime, the local government has the power to close down the operation.

The new decree would also allow these authorities to either seal the entrance to a closed facility or impose a penalty payment.

The preliminary bill will now be submitted to the Council of State for its opinion, after which the legislative process will continue in Parliament.

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