With crime on the rise in Brussels, police have resorted to “scarecrow-tactics” in an attempt to reverse the trend.
Alongside increased patrols, police will now use parked-but-empty police vans to scare criminals away.
Police officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Belgian media outlet Het Nieuwsblad they do not believe the ruse will help much to change what they say has become a dire situation in and around Brussels’ train stations.
“This place has been an absolute disaster for years when it comes to security,” one officer said of an unnamed city station.
Police believe there are three main groups behind the rash of crime. First and foremost are thieves and pickpockets, often well-organised Roma from Romania, according to officers.
Then there are drunks and alcoholics, most of them originating from Eastern Europe, police say. The pungent smell of urine often permeates Brussels stations.
Finally there are the unaccompanied youths. “They are really the most dangerous,” an officer told Het Nieuwsblad. That group consists largely of underage, illegal immigrants crossing Europe to try to enter the UK, he said.
“They come from all over the world and gather here at the stations.
“The numbers vary, but you could easily say there are always a hundred or more. They sleep and live here, causing trouble,” the officer said.
“They openly use all kinds of hard drugs and sniff glue. They steal from people and threaten them with box cutters stolen from supermarkets. They steal everything they can.
“They don’t possess the skills of the Romanians, but they compensate for it with a dangerous mix of stimulant drugs and downer pills,” he added, describing the situation as “hopeless”.
“We do want to take action, but there’s absolutely no capacity. Our anti-pickpocket team once had 35 members. Now we’re down to just five.
“We still apprehend people but the prosecution [services] consistently release them. We’re disheartened and often can’t do more than simply remove anyone causing disturbance. But, half an hour later, they’re right back,” one of the officers said.
Travellers, local residents, and store owners have been ringing the alarm bell.