Insight into routines
Ruiter states that his research demonstrates how important it is to map the behaviour of offenders. One of his PhDs is doing follow-up research into the times at crimes are committed. Ruiter: ‘Offenders spend time with their families or at work. So, understanding their routines is important. Ideally, I would like to track offenders by GPS but, of course, there are few volunteers for that.’ Amongst other things, he is now busy analysing police vehicle tracking data to study the deterrent effect of police surveillance.
Working across the boundaries of disciplines
Within NSCR, the research into crime is organised along three key questions. Who commits crime at what time and who does not? Ruiter's research fits within the second question: 'Where and when do offenders commit crime?’ The third question is how society responds to crime and what the outcomes of this reaction are. Within these themes, NSCR has a wide range of research projects that vary from wildlife crime (like poaching) to extremism. Ruiter, also a management team member: ‘Some choices are made top-down, such as the decision to invest in research into cybercrime. Other lines of research arise when researchers explore new areas based on their expertise. As NSCR we also submit proposals to the calls of the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) of the Ministry of Justice and Security and other organisations. With VU Amsterdam, we also participate in research funded by the European Horizon 2020 programme. We work with nearly all Dutch universities and within the VU Amsterdam, we collaborate with most faculties. At the universities, research into crime is accommodated mainly done within the criminology departments of the faculties of law. NSCR's strength is that we study crime from a variety of perspectives, from humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, and work across the boundaries of disciplines.’
The Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) is the smallest institute within NWO-I. The 40 employees are housed at the campus of VU Amsterdam. That a small institute can deliver top research is clear from the outcome of the SEP evaluation 2017. A panel of independent experts assessed NSCR as ‘world leading and excellent’. Ruiter is proud of this: “It is a compliment for the direction we are taking.”
As responsible for IT and data management, Ruiter also regularly works on subjects that play a role at other institutes within NWO-I. He is keen to contribute ideas about science policy. In the discussion about open science and open data, NSCR has specific interests. Ruiter: ‘Transparency of scientific output is a priority we share, but we have to draw other boundaries due to the privacy-sensitive nature of the data we use. The next question is how you can you still meet the requirements of replicability.’
Not on the street
Due to this sensitivity of the data, which NSCR receives in the strictest confidence, the security requirements within the institute are particularly strict. Ruiter: ’Criminal prosecution is one of the most intimate things that people experience. There is absolutely no way we can allow the data we possess to end up on the street. The NSCR data manager anonymises all data we receive. And if that is not possible, then these so-called "red data" are sent to a Secure Analytics Lab which is not connected to the Internet. Nearly all processes within NSCR involve “observing and checking each other's work”. Our data protection officer continuously makes us aware of the precarious nature of the data. “You get used to dealing with these data”, is his motto. Moreover, that is true.’ NSCR will shortly relocate from the ground floor to the third floor. One advantage of this is that the institute will become even less accessible for people with malicious intentions.
About Stijn Ruiter
Stijn Ruiter (1976) is sociologist. He has worked as a senior researcher at NSCR since 2009. Ruiter is also professor by special appointment of ‘Social and spatial aspects of deviant behaviour’ at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Utrecht University. He switched from Radboud University Nijmegen, where he gained his doctorate and was an associate professor, to NSCR due to his interest for crime research. ‘I was also attracted by the societal relevance of the subject and the multidisciplinary approach.’