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Monica den Boer installed as professor by special appointment Police Studies: ‘The blue line in my life’

Ideally, she would like to do everything, but as an academic she feels most at ease. Monica den Boer, who has decades of experience within police and defence and who was also active as a member of the House of Representatives (D66), has been installed as professor by special appointment of Police Studies. This chair (0,4 fte) was established at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs and is the result of a collaboration with the National Police.

Welcome! What is your background?

'This is my first chair at Leiden University, but it feels like coming home. Landing in Leiden, or in The Hague actually. Some colleagues I have known for a long time. Previously, I was extraordinary professor of Comparative Public Administration at the VU for more than ten years and the same period included director of Research and Knowledge Development at the Police Academy. Currently, I am also Professor of Military Police Operations at the Defence Academy in Breda. I know the police well, but there are new issues since I left in 2016, so I have started to get reacquainted.'

'Every dime can become a quarter, whatever your background'

What do you want to focus on?

'The demand for security is greater than the police can provide. There is a huge capacity shortage looming due to an ageing population, but at the same time the capacity of the police is immense. Abroad, people are looking at our knowledge. Think, for instance, of the crackdown on cryptocommunication service EcroChat. The Dutch police is innovative and dares to push boundaries. I want to give further impetus to knowledge and (international comparative) research for and by the police. Have we set this up properly now? With a view to the future of the police, I want the choices to be well-considered.'

How do you plan to do that?

'My organisational strength is great, I am energetic, enthusiastic and impatient. I am a dyed-in-the-wool academic and have also done administrative things. With that, I can really give impetus to this chair and get the research group on track. Among other things, we are thinking about a minor in Police Studies, possibly in collaboration with Criminology.' 

What do you actually have with police and defence, where does the interest come from?

'In Florence, I received my PhD from the European University Institute in 1990. By then I was already working on things around the police judge, language and criminal justice. The criminal justice chain is complex and there are all kinds of layers to it. Originally, I am a discourse analyst, dissecting language. I am particularly interested in how it works. The power of institutional language is to mould people, as it were. That already happens when you go to the doctor's office, but so does criminal justice, so does one at the Belastingdienst. The police is a shaper of the language pathway: a police report, for example, is a piece of police prose that goes through the entire judicial chain. We often don't think about that.'

'I myself was a single parent for quite a long time, which is not always fun and at the same time makes you enormously proud'

What do you think of that?

'It is important for police officers to reflect on this further, to think about the effect that language change can make in the personal life of a victim, suspect or witness. You see that in both police and defence. Those seemingly small things matter a lot and especially when you add that up for the police, where some 65,000 people work.'

In your farewell letter to former chair of the House of Representatives Khadija Arib, you wrote: 'I am more an academic than politician'. How do you look back on this?

'Mother, academic and politician. I would love to do everything, but you have to make choices in life. As an academic, I feel much more like a fish in the water. I know where I stand, what I have to do and I know the mores within the academic world. So that's what I'll keep on doing, at least until I retire, I'm 61 now. Politics was quite new for me, I got to do the police file there, with very interesting topics. No, I don't want to go back to the House of Representatives. Although I do occasionally miss the dynamics, the turbulence and the fact that you can sometimes make quite a difference.'

What do you want to impart to students?

'Seize the opportunities that present themselves. Every dime can become a quarter, whatever your background. Be as autonomous, independent and self-reliant as you can. And women, you have tremendous potential to rise higher and I really hope you seize all opportunities. Look now at the new chief of police of the National Police, Janny Knol, and Annelore Roelofs, commander of the Royal Military Police: two female police bosses at the top, a one-off! I am often told that I am a role model, but it went with fits and starts for me too. I myself was a single parent for quite a long time, which is not always fun and at the same time makes you enormously proud. Don't get too distracted, be focused on your goal!'

Text: Magali van Wieren

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