Zeeburg suburb in Amsterdam has launched an experiment: sturdy 'street-coaches' are plucking subteens from the streets on weekdays after 10pm and taking them home - gently. The council denies it's a curfew: it's an educational service.
Kids twelve years or younger are approached by the street-coaches on weekdays, asked for their addresses and then gently taken back to mommy and daddy. Zeeburg is one of the problem-suburbs of The Netherlands, infamous for its many townhouses with cannabis-plantations -- and where drug-dealers and even sex-slavery gangs are known to target youngsters as prospective new 'customers' and for the prostitution trade.
If the little darlings, lured by the bright lights of these dangerous Amsterdam streets after ten pm, don't want to cooperate, the local beat cop is called in to 'speak to them in somewhat harsher tones' to get them to reveal their addresses.
However, that's only the start of the entire 'educational' process: the street-coaches taking the youngsters home, then also speak to the parents, and explain to them why it's not really all that good for children to be out of bed and out in the streets of Amsterdam that late on week-nights.
And the coaches also make appointments for immediate follow-up interviews with the parents and members of their organisation, SAOA, which translates to something like "Foundation for Tackling Child-Nuisance in Amsterdam". see
The street-coaches often are from the same ethnic-groups as the kids and cycle around in groups, keeping an eye out. They know the streets well, and 'talk the kids' language'. They often also are alerted by parents themselves.
"The coaches raise alerts, report on problems before they escalate and even intervene whenever necessary.' And they are professionals, trained and paid by the security company To Serve And Protect (TSAP)," their spokesman said.
They can't be identified by name because of the 'sensitive nature' of their work. However, they are immediately recognisable by their clothing with the logo "street coach'. The uniforms were designed to identify them as figures of authority. Nevertheless, they aren't cops: the street coaches are always unarmed, and the present experiment to shield subteens from the drug-dealers of Amsterdam after ten pm is only one of their many other tasks.
The street coaches - equipped with snappy push-bikes - mainly keep an eye out for any criminal activities and even carry out citizens' arrests if they have to: i.e. holding someone under control with minimal violence until the police shows up. seeSocial welfare service:
The kids are left alone on Friday and Saturday-nights however - because they don't have to go to school the following days. The Zeeburg sub-council says that they don't want to call the experiment a 'curfew' -- it's much more like a social-welfare and educational service for the children and their parents.
"It's our effort to support the parents in their educational task,' says a SAOA representative. Taking the children home also gives coaches the chance to meet their parents - and diagnose any possible educational problems which may exist inside a child's household.
"We all speak the language of the street and often have the same ethnic background. We often kick a game a football with those boys,' says one street-coach.
By June during report-back time, the sub-council of Zeeburg will analyse the entire six-month experiment, to establish whether its success rate up to that point -- and whether street-coaches elsewhere could also be roped in for other 'problem-neighbourhoods' in the rest of Amsterdam.
Yet, although the programme still in its infancy, city mayor Job Cohen has already announced that he doesn't like the underlying idea of any 'curfews for the younger-than-twelves'.
seeZeeburg streets are dangerous for young teens
The dangers of street-life in the Zeeburg suburb - and neighbouring East Watergraafsmeer in greater Amsterdam, are illustrated by publication of the recent municipal housing inventory - which showed that there now are at least 43 rental townhouses which are kept under constant police surveillance because of their drug-dealing and cannabis-growing activities. Also see our previous story on this subject here
This inventory was announced by none other than mayor Job Cohen - in other words, the very same man who is also opposed to keeping the under-twelves off the streets of Zeeburg on weeknights. Go figure - because it's exactly these very young children who are also being targeted by the dealers living in these townhouses...
With the new tough approach recently announced by the Dutch government, all the country's drug-dealers are increasingly targeted, arrested and their 'drug-houses' cleared out of all the cannabis plants and drug-dealing paraphernalia.
It's a very exacting task because of the strict laws laid down to protect the rights of such tenants in overcrowded the Netherlands. One cannot simply kick a tenant out of a rental house overnight - even if police raids discovered a cannabis-plantation in it; or tenants were arrested for drug-dealing just outside the front door...
Police first have to raid the houses and alert the rental authorities to the problems caused by such tenants. And even with overwhelming evidence against them, it sometimes still takes months to get these nuisance-tenants out of these rental properties.
Zeeburg residents have meanwhile, also been asked by Cohen via the news media to drop their fear of these (often armed and dangerous) criminals and to start cooperating with the clean-up effort - by informing on these unpleasant neighbours.
Ever since 2007, Zeeburg 's sub-council has mounted a major assault against the dealers and their houses. They cleaned up 14 sites in 2007, another 15 in 2008 and now are planning a major clean-up operation of the 45-odd townhouses which the police now have under surveillance.
And the residents are beginning to cooperate: especially the illegal cannabis-plantations are identified more often by neighbours than they ever were before - because the authorities now react more much quickly to alerts from neighbours and the electricity company. see