Onrust rond het Maagdenhuis, 17 november 1969
Onrust rond het Maagdenhuis, 17 november 1969

'To protect and serve'

Police adaptation to changing societal and governmental expectations in the Netherlands, 1930s - 1980s
4 September 2023 until 4 September 2028
Project member(s)
Brinkhorst, L. (Laura)
Project type

Police forces operate between government and citizens and often deal with conflicting and contested expectations on both sides. Since the 1930s, the Dutch police professionalised and adapted to ongoing democratisation and emancipation of citizens. The standards of professional ethics for modern police work remained largely unchanged in the 20th century. Nonetheless, public expectations concerning accountability, transparency and societal representation have changed markedly over time. Pressure from citizens, media and government resulted in organisational restructuring and adoption of new practices. As a strong organisation with corporate identity, force mandate and responsibility for law and order, the police constitute a great lens for studying shifts and contestation in government-citizen interaction.

This project analyses how the Dutch police responded and adapted to societal and governmental pressure. In public opinion and academic literature, the police are often seen as mere executor of government directives without any internal autonomous dynamics. Comparing the inner workings of the police in five mid-sized cities offers novel, bottom-up insights into mechanisms of police adaptation. The inherent tensions the police experience between government’s directives and citizens’ expectations become tangible on the local level of ‘doing policing’.

The project gives center stage to police officers and focuses on three themes of adaptation:

  1. Inclusion and diversity: issues of societal representation of women, minorities and LGBT officials joining the force;
  2. Being an officer and a citizen: when professional rules clash with personal, political, or religious beliefs;
  3. Interaction with citizens: e.g., treatment of suspects, the use of force or ethnic profiling.

Photo: Stadsarchief Amsterdam / ANEFO


This project is funded by NWO. 

Contact information