New multi-agency collaboration – pulling together as a recipe for better justice
Where organisations in the criminal law domain used to originally operate in a chain, things changed when a different approach to dealing with common crimes was adopted. The police, the Public Prosecutor's Office, victim support, and the probation service are all based at one single location, enabling them to handle complete cases within a time span of only nine hours. With this new working method, cases are kept simple, settled quickly, handled together, and treated as selectively as possible.
There was discontent lurking among professionals in the multi-agency chain. Common crimes require a rapid response to show that they will not be tolerated. However, responses were often far from rapid in the chain, as the chain was organised inefficiently and not sufficiently aligned with the actual crimes.
Aside from that, it lacked focus on the suspect's context. In parallel to this, a political drive to cut processing times for criminal cases developed on a national scale, prompting five regions that include the Netherlands’ major cities to launch a pilot. Within six months after the start of the pilots, hundreds of cases had been settled through new collaborations between law enforcement agencies. And after one year, as much as 18 percent of cases were dealt with using the ZSM approach. The pilot phase was completed in 2012.
The new way of working was implemented on a national scale between 2012 and 2013. In 2016, 189,000 cases were discussed at the joint ZSM table. Of these cases, 109,000 where settled by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, representing nearly half of all the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s cases. One focus point that was shaped further is the involvement of the solicitor. His or her active involvement in the ZSM settlement process is indispensable for reasons of lawfulness, i.e. to look after the suspect's interest. Accepting a direct settlement could, for example, have consequences for a suspect when applying for a job later, as he or she would then not be granted a certificate of good conduct to submit to a potential employer. Getting lawyers involved during the first stage of a criminal investigation was important in making suspects aware of such consequences. It is also important that suspects not be summoned too soon. The new ZSM approach is intended to continue to use the principle of settling as many cases as possible independently. The process is further optimised by developing new working methods that will first be trialled in practice. Throughout the process, weighing the interests of both sides is important for the collaborating agencies.
The innovation has been implemented irreversibly, albeit that the Public Prosecutor's Office does still fall back on old working methods at times, with the focus being on processing time, while prevention of repeat offences should be the central focus of the monitoring. Where ZSM often targets an intervention that materialises as quickly as possible - such as a behaviour order - the indicator that is used is the processing time of the final settlement of the criminal proceedings, which insufficiently reflects the on-the-spot aspect of other kinds of interventions. What also comes into it is the question whether a penalty order requires a traditional paper-based record, or that a penalty order is intended to, in conjunction with adequate legal assistance, enable effective instant settlement of the case, whereby an electronic record will suffice.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Where organisations in the criminal law domain used to originally operate in a chain, things changed when a different approach to dealing with common crimes was adopted. Police, the Public Prosecutor's Office, victim support, and the probation service are all based at one single location, enabling them to handle complete cases within just nine hours. Sanctions are effective only if imposed immediately after the offence, but the new way of working also makes sure there is immediate assistance for the victim, while possible compensation is also arranged right away. Aside from that, there is focus on possible care and support needs for the perpetrator. With this new working method, cases are kept simple, settled quickly, handled together, and treated as selectively as possible in an approach that is referred to as the ZSM approach. This way, each case is settled in a way that is in line with society's needs, taking into account the context of the victim and his/her environment.
What is the current status of your innovation?
When it comes to handling cases of common crimes, the new way of working has made serious headway. At the same time, cities that have adopted the ZSM approach have also added their own twist to it. Meanwhile, a national ‘association of owners’ has been created, made up of collaborating agencies that play a role in executing the new way of working. The idea behind this is to safeguard the consistency in how the ZSM approach is implemented, as well as to think about how to further develop the ZSM approach.
The Rotterdam Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an Advice and Triage Point (ATP). It turned out that the collaborating agencies found it hard to develop an overall view of a suspect’s life. The ATP lets each collaborating agency complete a list of questions on the suspect, using information available in the partner’s own database. Based on the outcome, a decision is made which collaborating agencies will take part in the subsequent triage meeting on the case.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Having a clear project plan with lots of communication on progress was decisive in ensuring the pilots ran smoothly. The professionals spoke both about things that were and that weren't going well. This made that professionals took ownership of cases. There was also regular reporting on progress. The collaborating agencies showed mutual trust, as well as loyalty and perseverance around this subject. The relevant ministry was also involved intensively.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Given that all partners in a case are at the table together, the information needed to settle a case will be instantly available to everyone. The ensuing response is rapid, appropriate, and involves less red tape, taking into account the perpetrator, victim, and other parties involved, whereby cases are selected at the front end of the process and bottlenecks cannot arise at the back end. Cases that are not eligible for this kind of accelerated settlement can be passed on to the appropriate authorities immediately. The ZSM system and method also enables much broader examination of a case than merely from a criminal law perspective, looking also at things such as care or the social domain. An evaluation from 2016 showed that the partners would not want to go back to the old situation. The new way of working does justice to the interests of the victim. The involvement of the Child Care and Protection Board ensures focused consideration of combinations between punishment and care.
Challenges and Failures
One of the first challenges is that the collaborating agencies process a lot of privacy-sensitive data, meaning that they have to be careful when sharing information about a suspect. This is why the Advice and Triage Point (ATP) only uses judicial data at this point. Compared to the information that the Public Prosecutor's Office used to have at its disposal, however, this is already a major improvement. Aside from that, the joined-up ZSM approach, i.e. the meticulous customisation-based approach for faster justice that looks at the interests of the perpetrator, victim, and society alike, is not always a suitable way of working. For more weighty cases, this context-based approach is simply less pertinent. And there are still people at the Public Prosecutor's Office who do not see the point of this new way of working. For decades, the Public Prosecutor's Office was in the lead and dictated for all collaborating agencies what action to take. The new approach required a change of mindset.
Conditions for Success
An important success factor for the ZSM approach was that professionals across the chain and national politics felt there was a need for change. They all wanted more effective measures to fight crime. Other success criteria included the mutual trust between the collaborating agencies, their loyalty and perseverance, combined with intensive commitment from the Ministry of Justice. Besides that, the ZSM approach was also aligned with the Public Prosecutor's Office’s ambition to be more outward-looking.
The ZSM approach is currently used across the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the new ATP tool, developed by the Rotterdam Public Prosecutor's Office, has also attracted interest on a national level. In comparison to many other countries, the Netherlands leads the way when it comes to this form of multi-agency collaboration.
It is relatively easy for other countries to replicate this set-up, although it should be noted that the principle of ZSM will be a better fit for some judicial systems than it will be for others. A system such as common law (used in the US and UK) lends itself very well to this approach. A public prosecutor in Germany, on the other hand, does not have the final say on whom to prosecute, meaning that it would be much harder to implement the ZSM approach there. At first sight, the Dutch system does not seem compatible with an approach such as this one either. The success of the ZSM approach, however, proves that the type of system need not be an obstacle.
An interesting thought is that the ZSM approach could lead to a more integrated way of working at the Public Prosecutor's Office, where all cases come in at one central point and ATP is used to chart a customised course for the case through the system. The ZSM approach could consequently turn out to be more than just a tool and have impact on how the Public Prosecutor's Office is organised.