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Ronald van Steden works together with Amsterdam police

4 October 2021
Dr. Ronald van Steden of VU Amsterdam has started a three-year research project in cooperation with the Amsterdam police. Together they are researching the implementation of a new position within the police force: the Director of Care and Safety (Regisseur Zorg en Veiligheid). These directors must ensure that people who come into contact with the police receive the right help and care.

Healthcare and public safety are two fields that often overlap. Healthcare and police employees often see the same target groups and persons. The police encounter people who, for example, disturb the public order, but who also need help at the same time. For example, situations involving emotionally disturbed people and families dealing with domestic violence. 

Ronald van Steden has been working regularly with the police since 2007. Van Steden is Associate Professor in Public Administration and Political Science at the Faculty of Social Sciences of VU Amsterdam and Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). His research regularly focuses on public safety and public order. 

For this research project, Van Steden is working with the Amsterdam police to develop a new way of working at the crossroads of health care and safety. A total of 22 Directors of Care and Safety will be assigned to all seventeen teams of the Amsterdam police. Their task is to ensure that groups and individuals who come into contact with the police receive the proper care.

These directors are especially necessary because they need to navigate through a complex healthcare field in Amsterdam. Van Steden: "In the public safety field there are not that many organisations: police, municipal wardens and streetcoaches. In the healthcare field, on the other hand, there are many more." The task for the Directors of Care and Safety is to get all those parties together to provide the right help. "Amid all those parties, the director has a diplomatic, coaching and steering function." 

Together with researchers from the Amsterdam police unit, Van Steden supports and supervises this implementation. "Instead of starting a project and evaluating it in three years, we are involved from the very beginning. We can monitor what is going well and what isn’t," Van Steden explains. "Our contribution lies somewhere between research and policy advice. Not only do we collect knowledge, but we also give it back to the field."

What can you contribute to such a project as a scientist? Van Steden: "Scientific researchers can gather information from a distance in the most objective way possible and link it to theoretical insights. Away from the issues of the day and with a broader perspective than the management that is on top of things every day."

A research project in the midst of society is what Van Steden likes to do. "We work alongside the Directors of Care and Safety and see what they do daily. That is why we can give good guidance. In addition, we hopefully contribute to giving people the care they need."

"I have always done research that focuses on social impact," Van Steden explains. "But the scientific application is also important: I can write a scientific article about this topic because this problem is bigger than Amsterdam. That is also a good reason to involve a scientific researcher, to look at the bigger picture."

What would Van Steden recommend to colleagues who also like to work with partners in the field? "It always helps to have a large network within the organisation where you do research.” Van Steden laughs: “It is also important to have some modesty. Sometimes there is a tendency to put scientific knowledge at the top of the pyramid, but practical knowledge is worth a lot. Try to connect those two. Make a plan together with the people in the field. Make sure you speak the language. It is a skill to be able to feel at home in several worlds. You don't do this type of research on your own, this is teamwork."