The mayors of the communes that make up the Brussels region have slapped down a new call for the six police zones to be united into one city force. The idea was raised by federal home affairs minister Pieter De Crem following the success of a joint operation over two days at the turn of the year.
The joint New Year operation, where the six zones came under a single command, “demonstrates the need for a united command structure,” De Crem (CD&V) said yesterday. And he repeated his party’s call for a single Brussels force. “The last two days have proved that this is the only option for the future,” he said.
Critics of the current system point out that Brussels, with a population of little over one million, effectively has six police forces, while cities ten times larger, like London and New York, operate with a single force – the NYPD and the Metropolitan Police respectively.
But De Crem’s idea fell on deaf ears in the 19 town halls of the capital.
According to Philippe Close, mayor of Brussels-City, a joint operation could always be organised if the situation required, but neither the police chiefs not the officers on the ground are in favour of a permanent change. A survey carried out in 2018 by the University of Ghent revealed that the local heads of the six police zones were against the idea of a single zone, which they estimated would be impossible to manage in a city with 19 mayors.
Didier Gosuin, mayor of Auderghem, described the subject as “an irritating obsession of Flemish politicians”. He took as an example the single police zone in Antwerp. “Grenades are exploding in Antwerp,” he said. “Do you hear French-speaking politicians calling for the Antwerp police zone to be split up?”
The New Year celebrations in Brussels might not immediately appear a huge success, with about 200 arrests and dozens of fires burning across the city. But De Crem considers the arrest rate a positive, comparing it to the quasi-riots seen last year in Molenbeek, where fire crews were pelted with stones and hardly an arrest was made.
“What didn’t function last year is now resolved,” his spokesperson said. “Vigorous and targetted measures were taken. Violence against the emergency services was avoided. And with the arrests, the intolerable problem of impunity and been solved.”
CD&V, meanwhile, intends to include the unification of Brussels police zones in its platform for the discussions still under way for the creation of a new federal government.