The Minister of Justice, Koen Geens (CD&V), favours merging the Brussels police zones, but concedes that a Brussels police merger is not imminent. He said this on Wednesday morning, during the Radio 1 (VRT) broadcast “De Ochtend” (“The Morning”). He was speaking from New York. Here the Flemish Christian Democrat minister is conducting a work visit. Mr Geens has thus made contacts in New York, in view of the meeting that he will have with the Conference of Brussels Mayors on December 13th.
The American city has a single police zone, covering 8.5 million inhabitants. By comparison, Brussels has six police zones for 1.2 million people. In his broadcast on VRT, and through a communiqué, Minister Geens insisted upon the fact that the involvement of the New York police in community policing had proved to have major advantages. It had contributed to lowering the use of firearms by 30%, and reduced the number of interrogations, custody cases and searches, from 685,724 in 2011 to 22,929 in 2015.
In New York, the Police Commissioner appointed by the Mayor, determines the strategy for dealing with crime. The Police Commissioner manages a force of 54,000 people, amongst whom there are 36,000 police officers and 18,000 administrative staff. Despite the existence of several large districts, and 123 zones run by various commissioners, and assistant commisioners, he is ultimately responsible for the city’s policing policy.
The current Police Commissioner, James O’Neill, instigated a community policing system from 2014, when he [O’Neill] was appointed. In more than half of the police zones, the same agents work in the same places, during the same hours. They thus have the best possible knowledge of the district in which they operate.
The CD&V minister acknowledges, “There is certainly more crime in the United States than in Belgium.” He goes on, “However, the New York police have made a lot of progress and regained the population’s trust.”
Mr Geens spoke of his hope that he would succeed in inspiring the Brussels mayors through this experience. As alluded to above, he will meet the Brussels mayors, together with the Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon (New Flemish Alliance), on December 13th. This is with the aim of improving security in the capital, in particular through an efficient command unit.
However, the CD&V minister does not anticipate that a merger of the police zones is about to happen. This project will not form part of the next government agreement, but may feature in the subsequent one. He added, during the “De Ochtend” broadcast, that it would be useful to take advantage of the period between now and the subsequent agreement to spend time reflecting [upon the viability of the New York policing system in Brussels].