Werner Van Herle
Head of the Prevention and Security Department, City of Mechelen (Belgium)
Werner Van Herle is a Criminology graduate from the University of Brussels who has been involved and since 1998 in the field of crime prevention and local security policies. He first worked at the Ministry of Home Affairs, where he supported local authorities in developing a crime prevention policy. Since 2002, he has been head of the prevention and public safety unit in Mechelen. This city has a strong focus on social cohesion, inclusion and social prevention. It aims to build a strong local community against polarisation and discrimination. Mechelen also faces specific security-related issues such as theft, drug abuse, youth violence and street harassment and likes to experiment with innovative solutions to new urban challenges, such as online hate speech, organised crime and extremism.
Do you have any specific hopes or predictions for the future of urban security? (What will urban security look like in 30 years? What will be the main opportunities and risks?)
Globally, more people will live in urban areas in the future. This means that the same surface (km²) will be shared by more people. This will create enormous tensions in several domains (housing, sharing public facilities, education, mobility, clean and safe environment, etc). Cities will be super diverse and next to freedom and respect for (or between) every individual, they will need to offer a safe, healthy place for all. All these domains can affect urban security, but that doesn’t mean that all policies (health, housing, mobility, etc) should be developed from a ‘security’ point of view. The risk is wanting to control everything. The future urban security policy will hopefully build trust within and between local communities and foster individual citizenship (reciprocity rights and obligations).
Why do you think it is so important to involve citizens in urban security practice?
Because citizens are the most important stakeholders of urban security practice. Urban security is more than strategic crime analysis or prioritising certain crime issues (e.g., high impact crimes) from an organisational (restricted capacity) point of view. The daily concerns and feelings of insecurity can only be revealed by involving (a representation of) all citizens. This point of view makes urban security not only a matter of police and the judicial system, but of many other actors (professional or non-professional). Involvement also means reaching out to vulnerable groups. Listening to the voices of citizens and including them in decision making processes will certainly create a supporting base for urban security plans, solutions and thus the practice and the (respect for) practitioner.