Brussels police face staff shortages as drug violence rises

Brussels has recently seen four shootings in a short space of time, one of which resulted in a fatality. The region is struggling to recruit police officers in the face of rising drug violence.

"Yes, there is a problem," said Eric Snoeck, ad interim commissioner general of the federal police, at a press conference on Thursday. The federal police presented its 2023 annual report the day after a deadly shooting took place in Brussels.

Snoeck stopped short of saying that police in Brussels were understaffed, but said that recruiting and keeping enough officers in the capital was a challenge "for a whole series of reasons".

20 per cent staff shortage

On Wednesday morning, a man was shot dead on Square Jacques Franck in the municipality of Saint-Gilles. The incident was one of four shootings in the same neighbourhood in the space of three days.

The mayor of Saint-Gilles, Jean Spinette, sounded the alarm about drug violence on the streets of his municipality in a radio interview on Wednesday. "We are facing mafia organisations," he said, speaking of gangs "holding our neighbourhoods hostage" and using "terror techniques".

Four shootings have taken place in less than three days in and around the Brussels municipality of Saint-Gilles © INFOGRAPHIC BELGA
Four shootings have taken place in less than three days in and around the Brussels municipality of Saint-Gilles © INFOGRAPHIC BELGA

The Brussels-Midi police zone, which includes Saint-Gilles, is facing a staff shortage of around 20 per cent, or more than 200 officers, the zone's chief of police, Jurgen De Landsheer, said on Thursday.

The funding of new recruits is not an immediate concern for Snoeck, as the budget for the federal police is "guaranteed" for this legislative period. "At the level of local police zones, it is up to the mayors to decide whether or not to fund an increase in personnel," he said.

One of the main problems in keeping recruits in Brussels is mobility, Snoek said, as many police officers want to work closer to home after several years in Brussels. Commuting to the capital has become synonymous with traffic jams, and the rise in fuel prices has exacerbated the trend towards shorter commutes, he said.

Dismantling drug networks

The mayors of Anderlecht and Saint-Gilles believe that street violence linked to drug trafficking goes beyond the remit of local police forces and should be dealt with at a higher level. 

According to the mayors, only the federal police can bring down the heads of the drug trafficking networks that make their communities unsafe. "We have to dismantle the networks," Spinette said on Wednesday. "To do that, we need financial investigations and we need to map the money flows."

The federal judicial police last year put more effort than ever into fighting organised crime, which includes drug crime, Snoeck said on Thursday. A quarter of their investigative capacity went into drug-related cases.

"Never in the recent history of the national judicial police have more people been arrested than last year, and these people were increasingly at a higher level in criminal organisations," he said. 

Local responsibility

"We must continue the fight against organised crime and drugs on all fronts, at all levels and with all partners," said Interior minister Annelies Verlinden on Thursday.

"We have to get away from the discourse that we only have to look at the federal level, local authorities are also responsible," she said. They are responsible for the quality of life in their communities and have to ensure that local police forces are strong enough, said Verlinden.

Verlinden also stressed that almost 500 million euros extra had been invested in police services during this parliamentary term. "The fight against international crime remains a priority for the federal government and the federal police," she said.



Ad interim commissioner general of the federal police Eric Snoeck during a press conference on the federal police's 2023 annual report © BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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