In 1996, the research group Fijnaut reported to the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Criminal Investigation Methods, chaired by Member of Parliament Maarten Van Traa. The Committee was set up as a reaction to a huge scandal related to dubious infiltration operations in organized crime groups (the so-called ‘IRT affair’) and aimed to take a wider view on both criminal investigation methods and the nature, scale and seriousness of organized crime in the Netherlands.
The criminological research group reported that Amsterdam was regarded as a center for both national and international organized crime . According to this criminological research group, the city was a major center in the world market for narcotics. In addition to groups from native and immigrant communities, many foreign groups were active in the (illegal) distribution of (illegal) goods. Some of these groups had—mainly in the inner city districts and especially in the Red Light District—built up economic positions of power in real estate, brothels, hotel and catering sector, and in prostitution. With regard to the Red Light District, the researchers concluded that criminal individuals and groups had, through their illegally acquired property and capital, gained practical control of the economic power. As a result, this enabled them de jure and de facto to decide who can develop what (illegal and/or legal) activities, and in this way determine to a high degree the level of public (dis)order in this area [7: 126]. The report stated that indecisiveness of the local authorities had created a fertile breeding ground for illegal and criminal activities in the Red Light District. The report referred – anonymously to 16 criminal organizations in particular which allegedly had become key players in this area.
The findings of the Committee, which were extensively broadcasted in the media, came as a shock to Amsterdam city politics. The political debate produced an official request to the Mayor and Aldermen to draft an action plan for the prevention of organized crime, and not wait for the national policies and regulations that were to result from the Parliamentary Inquiry. The plan of action announced 77 actions to enhance the defensibility of the city administration against the threat of organized crime. This approach consisted of a number of instruments, ranging from integrity tests for civil servants, the purchase of strategically positioned buildings and the refusal or withdrawal of permits, to the screening of companies competing for major public contracts. Due to the specific problems in the Red Light District, members of the Amsterdam City Council emphasized that additional administrative attention should be devoted to this part of the city center, and instigated the appointment of what came to be known as a Red Light District manager in 1997. The Red Light District manager and his team were asked to develop a methodology for the administrative approach to organized crime .
The administrative approach to organized crime formulated by the city council and further developed by the Red Light District manager was based on three causal assumptions . First, and following the conclusion of the Fijnaut research group, it was assumed that real estate plays a crucial role in organized crime. Real estate transactions can be an element of money laundering schemes. Proceeds of crime can be invested in real estate. Real estate can be used for illegal purposes, such as illegal housing or producing cannabis. Owning real estate also means controlling the type of commercial exploitation of that (especially ground floor) real estate and therefore to a certain extent, the Red Light District project was aimed at getting an insight into real estate ownership and regaining control over the exploitation of property.
A second important causal assumption was the presumed relationship between low levels of ‘livability’ – both in a social and an economic sense – and public safety on the one hand, and organized crime on the other. It was not only assumed that organized crime had a negative impact on livability and safety, but inspired by the successes of the gentrification of the Zeedijk, it was also assumed that a regenerated Red Light District would be less attractive for organized crime.
Third, it was assumed that due to administrative backlashes, poor law enforcement, and lack of interest, public administration in Amsterdam had lost control over certain areas and economic branches, and had inadvertently provided ample opportunity to criminals to commit crimes and launder their money. The solutions to this problem seemed rather straightforward: more accurate information, better cooperation between the various agencies within the municipality, and better cooperation between public administration, police, and tax authorities .
Execution and implementation
Spearheaded by the Red Light District manager and his team, the project was officially a multi-agency approach, for which the police, public prosecution service and tax authority had signed a covenant to participate and exchange information. By submerging himself in the work of street-level police and municipal officials and by joining them day and night ‘on the beat’ and talking to entrepreneurs, the Red Light District manager developed an extensive network in the area. The Red Light District manager and his team were asked to develop a methodology for the administrative approach to organized crime. They developed a ‘seven-step-plan’ which basically consists of two components: first, the collection and analysis of relevant information, and second, the taking of measures on the basis of this information. Acting on criminal intelligence together with signals the Red Light District manager had received through his network, localities and businesses considered vulnerable to organized crime were selected for investigation. Then several steps were taken to get a clear picture of the ownership and exploitation of the selected properties or businesses, linking information from public sources, municipal records, and classified information from the police, judiciary, and tax authorities. With regard to the latter, the project team was given special authority by the Minister of Justice to have access to classified police information. The idea was to collaborate these different types of information to initiate further target action for the maintenance of public order. Due to the fact that different partners cooperated in the project, a wide range of measures could be taken: the refusal or withdrawal of licenses and permits, the levying of taxes, the closure of certain establishments, the instigation of a criminal investigation, and under certain circumstances, the acquisition of real estate by the city itself, in order to prevent criminals from investing their money in specific objects .
The most direct impact of the appointment of the Red Light District manager and his actions for the Wallenproject was the creation of a legal basis for the exchange of information in a multi-agency context and producing a toolkit for an administrative approach to tackle organized crime. The project and methodology were as yet too young to expect visible effects on the problem of organized crime in the district. Furthermore, an evaluation of the project showed a strong dependency on the Red Light District manager and his extensive personal network in the area. For this reason, it was decided to prolong the Wallenproject, as part of the wider Van Traa project .
The Van Traa project
In 2000, 3 years after the start of the Wallenproject, the name of the project was changed into Van Traa project (named after the chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee) and its scope was extended to the city of Amsterdam as a whole. The approach developed for the Red Light District was to be used to target problems of organized crime in various vulnerable areas and sectors in the city. The application in the Red Light District was to be continued and implemented in the regular administrative procedures of city administration.
On a national level, the Ministry of Justice was still busy implementing the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee. New laws were drafted. Combating organized crime still had a high national priority. The city of Amsterdam was seen as a front runner in developing an integrated, multi-agency approach to organized crime. Delegations from other cities, the Parliament, other countries and even the Council of Europe visited Amsterdam . The Van Traa team organized excursions in the Red Light District to show this novel approach, which was already regarded as a success by the city administration.
As in the Wallenproject, the Van Traa project assumed a relationship between low levels of livability and public safety on the one hand, and organized crime on the other. Due to this proposition, for a long time the main focus of the administrative approach to organized crime has been on deprived areas and marginalized economic sectors.
Execution and implementation
In the Van Traa project the methodology developed by the Red Light District manager, was also applied to other city districts and in specific economic sectors, which on the basis of varying information and assumptions were seen as vulnerable to organized crime. While the Van Traa team was spearheading these new projects outside the Red Light District, the responsible agencies of the city center council were supposed to take over their application in the Red Light District. In 2003, the BIBOB Act came into force, making it legally possible to refuse or revoke licenses on the basis of a serious cause for concern that these would be used for criminal purposes. In addition to using its own methodology, the Van Traa team also coordinated the implementation of the BIBOB Act on behalf of the city of Amsterdam.
In 2005, the results of an evaluation study of the Van Traa project were published . The report observed that 56 properties had been acquired in the inner city and were given a bona fide exploitation, four illegal casinos had been put out of business, about 20 licenses for bars and restaurants had been refused or withdrawn, several bars had been temporarily closed, the ownership and financial structure of whole city blocks and economic sectors had been screened, and a structure for the regulatory enforcement in the Amsterdam harbor had been created. Last, but not least, preventative screening procedures for issuing licenses and providing subsidies had been introduced.
Due to the fact that the city administration had hardly any specific tools to fight organized crime until the BIBOB Act came into force, some of the city’s interventions came down to calculated ‘administrative harassment’. Only after the BIBOB instrument became available, could the administrative approach to organized crime become really effective. The city administration started to apply the law on the sectors of hotels, catering, prostitution, gambling establishments, and construction. An internal evaluation showed that in the first 5 years, 4,400 permits were checked, 300 files were selected for further study (180 in the center district), 80 were sent to the national BIBOB agency, which concluded that there was a serious threat in 60 cases, resulting in 30 permits being refused or revoked .
Without a baseline assessment of organized crime in the area fit for this purpose and due to the lack of a reliable assessment of organized crime by the police, it was impossible to determine to what extent these measures had decreased the problem of organized crime . Reliable conclusions on causality require experimental research designs or statistical analyses. Since criminal entrepreneurs generally try to hide the illegal nature of their business, these methodological requirements cannot be met when evaluating the effects of measures on organized crime. Due to the difficulties of acquiring data, Levi and Maguire  argue that for organized crime it remains largely a matter of belief that there is some effect.
As mentioned earlier, the project assumed a relationship between low levels of livability and public safety on the one hand, and organized crime on the other. Targeting organized crime should therefore lead to a decrease in street crime. The municipal safety plan 2007–2010, however, reported that 560 high frequency offenders are active in the city center. Pick-pocketing and street robbery remain a problem in the Red Light District. According to the plan, the types of businesses in the area amass problems of disorder and crime. In the Objective Safety Index the area is qualified a ‘relatively unsafe’. In the period between January 2009 and July 2010, CCTV cameras registered hundreds of crime incidents in the area. Nevertheless, since 2003, registered crime has decreased by 68 % in the Red Light District [20: 104]. This might indicate a correlation between the problem of organized crime in the Red Light District and the problem of street crime, although McCord and Tewksbury  found that it is the presence of sexually oriented businesses which relates to increased levels of crime in a community.
One of the greatest challenges in the project was the interpretation of the collected data. Can indications of money laundering or other organized crime-related activities be inferred from an overview of property leasing and letting, together with the financing and exploitation of properties? The instrument developed did provide for the collation and analysis of data, but did not provide for the assessment of the results: no indicators have been developed to determine what degree risk exists that certain observed constructions indicate criminal activity. In practice, it was usually information from the police and judiciary concerning the person involved that was decisive in determining whether organized crime can be assumed.
Although the police and the public prosecutor’s office were officially partners in the project, and the covenant created a legal basis for information exchange, relevant criminal intelligence was not always provided for two reasons: 1) on the shop-floor level of the criminal investigation units many police officers were reluctant and suspicious to share criminal intelligence with non-police partners and 2) strategic policies of the Van Traa team and police were not aligned whereby criminal investigations were not producing the kind of information that could be used for preventative purposes by the city administration.
While ostensibly being a multi-agency effort, the actual collaboration scarcely reached the level of real joint action. With the exception of the Van Traa team, the contribution of most actors is better typified as cooperation without engagement. The existence of a specialized team dedicated to the prevention of organized crime served as an excuse for others to refrain from becoming involved. Despite the fact that in the policy plans the necessity of a multi-agency approach was stressed, the external parties seemed to take the position that they were merely assisting the public administration in preventing organized crime. The implementation of the project in the city’s standard procedures did not meet expectations .