Maastricht is an ambitious city with ambitions for economic and demographic growth. Maastricht profiles itself as an international university city and a city of experiences and contacts (one of the central themes in the new Omgevingsvisie Maastricht (environmental vision of Maastricht)). These policy ambitions are intended to increase the city’s appeal and future-proofness. However, they also have a downside. A more appealing Maastricht will increase the diversity of the population, with more temporary residents, and will also result in increased economic dynamics, more events, and more mobility flows. This will in turn make the city more appealing to criminals.
For this reason, these policy ambitions have a great effect on the safety of Maastricht’s city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods. This means that these policy ambitions must be interpreted in terms of the necessary preventive safety measures, whereby extra attention will need to be given to the inner city and the socially vulnerable neighbourhoods.
Socially vulnerable neighbourhoods often house society’s most vulnerable persons, in part due to the cheaper social sector rented accommodation that they offer. These neighbourhoods are often home to multi-problem families, asylum seekers, and persons with a psychological disorder (mental health problems). However, not all neighbourhoods are able to absorb the problems accompanying these groups to an adequate extent. The neighbourhood’s social cohesion and, as a result, social resilience come under extra pressure when large numbers of persons move in and out of the area. Endeavours to tackle nuisance benefit from a neighbourhood approach that is based on a thorough integral scan of the area.
The nuisance caused by persons with mental health problems is an important point for attention in Maastricht. The increase in the numbers of these persons is a national development that is in part due the phasing out of inpatient care without a proportionate increase in suitable outpatient care facilities. The seriousness and scope of this problem has resulted in the Safety Partnership’s decision to develop a comprehensive approach. The spearhead of the Zuid-Limburg Safety Partnerships is to organize a central knowledge and information centre under the management of the Westelijke Mijnstreek Safety Partnership that will focus on persons with mental health problems. This knowledge and information centre will serve the Parkstad, Maastricht-Heuvelland, and Westelijke Mijnstreek regions. The knowledge and information centre will play the role of a shunting yard: the centre will record, enrich, and analyse all reports from the 3 regions with the objective of directing the casuistry to the most appropriate care or other partner, district team, or area team in line with the local structure in the relevant region. Municipalities in Zuid-Limburg are also cooperating with partners including care providers, welfare work, regional health services, safety partnerships, police, and judicial authorities in the development of a comprehensive structure for this target group. The
plan of approach (consisting of a number of projects that will link up with each other) is currently under development and is scheduled for implementation in the autumn of 2018. The plan can be divided into three main lines of approach. The first line addresses quality of life, inclusion and care of each other. The focus is placed on early identification and attention to treatment perspectives. The second line addresses the improvement of the care infrastructure by filling gaps and by resolving bottlenecks in care, facilities, and transport. The third line addresses cooperation between care and punishment, which involves partners including the Safety Partnerships’ information centre with the objective of harmonizing the coordination process between the various parties involved.
Noise nuisance is often an important component of nuisance caused by local residents. An international city — with many students — of the nature of Maastricht is confronted with a wide range of nationalities cultures and patterns of life that sometimes cause nuisance. The not always harmonious coexistence between Maastricht’s original residents and newer residents such as students and refugees plays an important role in the social quality of the neighbourhood. The unfamiliarity with each other can lead to a lack of mutual understanding and perceived nuisance. Residents can have a positive view of diversity in their neighbourhood when there are sufficient assurances for social cohesion and consensus on the neighbourhood’s standard and values. This can be supported by an appropriate layout of the public spaces, as suitable meeting places in the area can literally bring people together and promote social cohesion in the neighbourhood.
The Zachte landing in de wijk (soft landing in the neighbourhood) element of the Housing Maastricht project (part of Wonen en Zorg (home and care)) is of importance in housing members of groups such as the homeless or former clients of the mental healthcare services. The objective is to give these persons an opportunity to make a new start in a home in Maastricht in a manner that is agreeable to them and to their new neighbours.
Nuisance caused by multi-problem families: the nature and content of the reports to the Safety Partnership make clear that the complexity of social problems has increased in the past years. These include the growing mental healthcare service problems, loss of social ties, the increasing number of evictions and the associated accommodation problems (such as persons who are difficult to place and stagnation in transfers in social care), and the increasing complexity of the care ‘map’ due to the growing number of care providers). Further investments in the optimization of the coordination and collaboration between the Safety Partnership and the Social Domain are essential. This relates to a good, open connection with the local access and the Social Teams in Maastricht, as the advance groups (focused on prevention and timely indication), and with the integral area teams of Sociale Zaken Maastricht Heuvelland (social affairs office for Maastricht & Heuvelland) respectively (operational in 2019), as well as to a comprehensive escalation model.
Some neighbourhoods also suffer from an intimidation climate and from untouchables: a pecking order can develop in the neighbourhood that dissuades residents from reporting all or any cases of nuisance and violence. The harm that these persons cause to society gave cause to the Safety Partnership’s decision to begin by tackling the untouchables. This approach has since been brought under the Top X approach, which focuses on the persons who cause the most nuisance and are most responsible for feelings of insecurity. The Top X target group requires continual attention and long-term close cooperation between the judicial authorities and care partners under the Municipality’s management.
Alongside improving the neighbourhoods’ collective social resilience, it is also necessary to promote a perception of security by ensuring that residents do not become victims of frequently occurring crime (high impact crimes, property crimes, and violent crimes). These forms of crime are often committed by persons including those addressed by the Top X approach. As the chances of being caught are slender, the best means of achieving this objective is to implement situational crime prevention measures (SCP). The measures that have been taken in the past years to curb bicycle thefts, pickpocketing, and high impact crimes would appear to be bearing fruit. This approach needs to be continued in the coming period.
Vehicle crime (theft of vehicles and theft from or parts or accessories of vehicles) is a theme that requires extra attention, as there is a risk of this form of crime increasing. Vehicles are stolen, stolen to order, or are used in committing other crimes such as ram raids. Criminals breaking into vehicles also make use of signals transmitted by equipment in cars, such as Bluetooth signals to locate mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc. The above
is causing an upward trend in reports of car thefts break-ins, and a more structural approach is required.
A criminology investigation into collective resilience, social capital, and fear of criminality concluded that neighbourhood nuisance and crime have a great impact on residents’ perception of safety.8 Policy initiatives that address the reinforcement of social cohesion and social trust in the neighbourhood counter the detrimental impact of economic deprivation and create a buffer against neighbourhood nuisance and crime. It is expected that these policy efforts will bear fruit only once the nuisance problems in the neighbourhood are tackled vigorously. This approach results in visible improvements with respect to fear of crime and avoidance behaviour, as well as with the estimation of the risk of becoming a victim.