Security Praxis’ New Partners in Crime

As the editors of Security Praxis’ new thematic section on crime, we want to create a platform where people involved in ‘crime’, policing, and those directing ‘crime’ policies – be it as policy makers or as academics – feel free to engage in discussions and share their experiences and ideas. In the first place we want to invite ‘practitioners’ both from the criminal world, such as people carrying out illicit services or smuggling illicit goods or other rackets, as well as people working in law enforcement, dealing on a daily basis with the people involved in these rackets and vices, to reflect on what ‘the law’, ‘law enforcement’ and ‘crime’ mean for their lives. Particularly, we would like to invite contributors to contemplate on what they perceive as security, how doing crime and enforcing laws relates to their safety and risk, that of their families, neighborhoods and societies.

We would like to first of all give these professionals working on both sides of the law a voice, ask them to leave a contribution, or invite them to reflect upon their own practice and discuss with others how their experiences could be relevant to others and to society at large. What does ‘security’ mean for those people doing crime and doing law enforcement, and how do they bridge the gap where security for one may become insecurity for another; how could ‘law breakers’ and ‘law enforcers’ interact to create less damage to themselves and others?

In all the public talk and discussion on ‘crime’ the people least heard are those doing ‘crime’ and those tasked to contain it. We hope to somewhat remedy this with this blog; yet we also hope to engage policy makers and academics in these reflections, so as to give the professional experiences a context, aggregate such experiences, and reflect from less bottom-up perspectives. What do they think societies could do better in dealing with people and activities that are largely placed outside the protection of the law? What is and what could be the role of law and law enforcement in society, and what other insights could they bring to think of how security – as the most security for all – could be accomplished, reflecting on security-narratives, security-speak, and maybe first of all ‘security as action’ or the absence of action.

Already from the outset, the section’s two editors, Hans and Eva, are disagreeing about the future content of the section (what better start for a blog?). While Hans envisions Security Praxis’ new crime section to help people doing production and wholesale drugs, pimping, and other protection services as well as those working in law enforcement to better do their job – not causing unnecessary damage to each other and the rest of society, Eva thinks that continued law enforcement wrongdoing could be just what might contribute to break the way societies deal with different sorts of ‘crime’ such as the paradigm of drug prohibition, and she questions whether there is at all a right way to enforce laws which are essentially wrong (even laissez-faire might turn out harmful). Where Hans and Eva do agree, however, is on that for example drug prohibition does have negative social consequences – whether intended or unintended – that should be addressed. Although they both come from a background of drug research (from Netherlands and Norway respectively), to which they have come to be addicted – or at least professionally dependent, this section is not meant to be limited to issues of drugs. And through their long history in drug research, they both feel that basically all the ‘drug problems’ have very little to do with drugs, but indeed with how the law and law enforcement is used in society to deal with people that are a problem or have a problem, and to establish a social order amongst or over them, rather than dealing with the social and personal problems these people pose or face.

Hans, who recently has done extensive research on the hashish trade from Morocco into Europe, is at present most interested in issues related to how the drug trade actually works, how exchanges between producers and traders come about, how contracts are made, prices are set and qualities are controlled. Since hashish did not go away with prohibition, and prohibition did not go away, he is, however, also interested in how law enforcement agents look upon their job, how they make their decisions and how decisions are made as to who is targeted by drug enforcement, as well as what criminal justice systems try to accomplish by the way they define crimes, target people and mete out punishments. He has met very few police officials that actually believe prohibition works, but the question remains how they calibrate drug enforcement with their task to best protect society.

He believes that without prohibition much of the drug trade would not exist, as the financial incentive structure to produce, smuggle and deal drugs would largely disappear once the drug trade would become legal and regulated; which would make many jobs obsolete that now service and facilitate the production and trade in drugs. The people doing drugs now would not be the ones employed in a legally regulated drug trade. In his view it is prohibition and drug law enforcement that create artificial scarcities, inefficiencies, costs and wastage that together make that so many people now actually can find an income and employment in this trade. Yet, since it is illegal and punishments can be high, only those people will enter that cannot or are not willing to enter legal regulated employment.

The price for this system to be perpetuated is endlessly making arrests, interdict drugs and eradicate plantations. Indeed all this human wastage is a precondition to allow so many others to benefit from the illicit drug trade. This may make sense, if you look at it from the policing side, as it basically drives a great many people into victimless criminal activities, rather than crimes that directly would inflict damage on other people. And, in a more sophisticated policing approach it would even select out those people that are most unfit for regulated society to be targeted by the criminal justice system. The whole system depends on first offering people the opportunity and choice to engage in this illicit trade, which prohibition indeed does, and then use law enforcement to keep those people somewhat under control. Many people and parents have to fight very hard to even have a choice, and many fail.

From any but a police perspective this may be less of a good idea; but to assess what is going on in the drug business and in drug control one should look at what societies have to offer in order to give people a choice, and what societies can do or are willing to do with people that have a problem or are a problem for others in the way they behave. This assessment will vary widely between societies as they have different capacities to care for their citizens, and as they define and treat their underclass differently. If you think of drugs as sticking to exactly those people that really have a problem, and drug control as a way of keeping exactly those people under police control that potentially are a problem, it becomes easier to understand that both drugs and prohibition are not what we should look at, but that we rather should try to understand the social problems and social conflicts in societies that often are laid bare by drugs and drug law enforcement – the invitation is to turn the perspective upside down, and NOT reduce all problems to a drug problem. In such a perspective drugs and drug trading offer the weakest social sectors an income and relief, and prohibition and drug law enforcement essentially serve to maintain such illegal income opportunities, but at the price of forfeiting the underclass their civil rights and keeping them under police surveillance.

Searching for least harmful ways to deal with illicit drugs he had like to engage in the question whether there actually is a market for drugs like hashish, heroin or cocaine? How do prices come about that farmers get from intermediaries, how do the prices they fetch develop over time, and what determines price differences –between qualities, seasons, locations? What determines the wholesale price of drugs and the remuneration of all sorts of service providers that facilitate the smuggling and trading of drugs? Is there any ‘firms’ that can be held somewhat accountable for what they produce or sell, is there a way to establish trademarks to somehow control qualities? Can traders establish contracts, control quantities and prices, or is everybody involved essentially trying to cheat on each other, without much hope to recuperate any losses? Is there any competition between farmers, wholesalers and between smuggling enterprises, or do most exchanges rely on personal relations? And maybe most importantly, how does and can drug law enforcement influence and manage how the drug trade operates and benefits are distributed? If the threat and use of force is the precondition for the illegal trade to exist, how is this force than used, and what purposes does it serve, who benefits – in term of remuneration, security or in other ways.

Studying the other side of the coin, Eva currently inquires into European Union foreign and security policies on drug trafficking and ‘transnational organized crime’ along the cocaine trafficking routes from Latin America and the Caribbean, through West Africa, to Europe. While living in Colombia, she mapped EU projects and policies on drugs in the region, seeing how EU discourse and practices have changed over the past ten years – increasingly emphasizing security interventions before developmental measures. Studying the development of the EU as a security zone with the concepts of internal and external security, she intends to disentangle the ‘security logics’ immanent in EU policies towards third countries along the cocaine routes. She raises questions with regard to how external threats are constructed, constituted and managed – through discourse but also through policy instruments and policy action. Focusing on how crime and security policy is made within the EU and how it is translated into external action, but also on what consequences EU projects along the cocaine routes have for local communities and the actual people living in them, she aims to uncover (in)consistencies in policies and their underpinning principles at various levels.

Eva is interested in how conceptions of (supra/national) security plays out when threat images, security norms and security policy tools are exported from the North to other regions of the world. Understanding power as productive, she is for instance curious of how Northern security practices are being taken into use in Latin America and Africa as the ‘appropriate’ means, as well as of how a specific expert knowledge about ‘criminals’ renders them governable in particular manners. Even more interested is she, however, in opposition to such exports.

Eva thinks that the European Union’s (or UN’s or US’ or other international actors’) threat images of ‘organized crime’ and ‘drug traffickers’ do not always match the reality of, or might even be irrelevant to, people living in the local contexts where such threats are being assumed to flourish. Sometimes persons or groups on the ‘wrong side’ of the law provide the social security and basic infrastructure and services that the government has failed to deliver. And sometimes government security forces represent more threat, violence and harm to people than the ‘criminals’ they are put out to contain. People might be generally more concerned with greedy politicians, with a rich few who own the territory of the many, or with transnational corporations exploiting local resources and ravaging local communities, often with government blessing and protection of national and private security forces. The boundaries of what is to be included in the concept of (organized) crime are therefore highly contested, however, by people who mostly do not have a legitimate or powerful voice in such contestation. Eva would like to hear what people actually perceive as crime and what they do not perceive as crime regardless of how behaviors are defined by law. She would also like to hear the experiences of people living in the local settings where different counter-crime interventions are assumed to ‘create human security’, ‘safeguard human rights’ and ‘develop good governance’.

Hans and Eva share an interest in how perceptions of violence and social conflict can be made useful for people involved in EU policy making and in building relations between EU societies and those outside the EU, be it as policy makers, traffickers, agents of police forces, or interested academics and interested followers of such cross border activities.

As the editors of Security Praxis’ new thematic section on crime, we want to invite ‘practitioners’ from the criminal world, such as people carrying out illicit services or smuggling illicit goods, those policing them, those who design and carry out policies which are meant to contain crime or make the work of the police more responsive to societal needs, or those who research crime and policing, to engage with each other. Particularly, we would like to invite contributors to contemplate on what they perceive as security, how that relates to safety and risk, how security can be better distributed and be better provided, at a lower price or with less harm being done.

The submission guidelines are to be found clicking the contact button above: Emails with contributions to the crime section are sent to, where they will be submitted to a review process by the editors.

As a rule we accept contributions signed by the authors, but under specific circumstances pseudonyms could be considered.

Besides English, we also publish contributions written in Spanish and French, which will then be published in their original version together with a version in English – preferably translated by the author.

By Eva Magdalena Stambøl and Hans Van Der Veen


Cover photo credit: Crime Scene The City Dump 1977, by Jay Phagan CC-BY.