Explosive Violence – Hand Grenades in the Netherlands
Hand grenades have become a popular tool for criminals in the Netherlands. Based on the increase of incidents in the last years one can assume a further increase in the following years.
In 2018, Dutch police registered 42 hand grenade incidents. These grenades were found on the streets, in front of bars or shops, or at the doorsteps of private homes. These statistics present a steep increase as compared to previous years, considering that 2017 only counted 12 illegally used hand grenades.
A recent study from Sweden has found a similar increase in cases of detonated hand grenades. Moreover, Swedish researchers found that most of the recorded incidents of detonated hand grenades in recent years took place in or in close proximity to the biggest metropolitan areas in Sweden - in the same areas that were associated with gun violence. Our study on the Dutch context, in which we gathered information based on open sources and police data, found similar evidence: out of all cases registered since 2008, almost half of all hand grenades were found in the four largest cities of the country: Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague. It should be noted though, that the hand grenades found in the Netherlands only detonated in one-third of the cases registered since 2008. This difference weakens the comparability between the two studies, but it also shows a lack of available information about the phenomenon of illegal uses of hand grenades within Europe. Not only do we not have a vast amount of information on the type of grenades used, but there is also a lack of knowledge about the perpetrators. Nonetheless, the little available information allows us to provide potential answers to the following question: Why have hand grenades become such a popular tool for criminals in the Netherlands?
First of all, anecdotal evidence shows that hand grenades can be a very effective tool to threaten adversaries. Whether hand grenades are found in front of bars, shops or even sport clubs, in most cases, the mayor will choose to close the location for days, and sometimes even weeks, in order to establish public safety and to determine which measure could lead to successful future prevention of criminal activity at that location. Has the location been chosen randomly or are the owners involved in criminal activities themselves? Should the location stay open or would a permanent closure improve security around the area? Consequently, the affected individuals, such as shop or bar owners not only have to deal with potential financial damage, but also with bad press and the fear of future threats. Therefore, the hand grenades is very effective in cases in which the perpetrator seeks to damage economic competition.
A second reason why hand grenades have become popular tools in the Dutch criminal milieu is that the costs of using grenades as a threat are relatively low. In an interview with a local newspaper, the Chief of Police of Amsterdam mentioned that a hand grenade can be as cheap as 5 to 20 euros on the black market. This decreases the financial threshold for the potential perpetrators. Moreover, the likelihood of getting caught is relatively small, which is supported by the low percentage of arrests made in connection to discovered hand grenades. Another problem for the police is that hand grenades can easily be transported by bike, scooter or car and that there are rarely eye witnesses if grenades are left in front of buildings during the night.
The police only have limited influence on the accessibility of hand grenades on the black market or the use of those hand grenades after purchase. Nonetheless, there are a few measures that could increase our knowledge on the topic of criminal use of hand grenades and, hopefully, decrease future use. One such measure would be a national register of all incidents related to hand grenades, which registers the type, locations and motives for their use. As of mid-2018, the police started such a systematic monitoring process nationwide. This information could help identify so-called hot-spots for more effective policing and it could help clarify whether grenades are used mostly in the criminal milieu, for example between competing gangs, to eliminate economic competitors or for other reasons.
Based on the increase of incidents in the last years and the data for the first few months in 2019, we can assume a further increase in the following years. Though this projection is a cause for worry, it will hopefully also lead to new data and information on perpetrators, their motives and answers to a number of yet unexplored questions.