Citizens increasingly contribute to the detection of criminal offences. On Friday 18 November, Eelco Moerman (29) has been awarded a doctorate for his research into citizens’ legal position within criminal investigations.

Could you explain the title in layman’s terms?

“It’s entitled Civic integration in criminal investigations. About the citizen’s legal position in the detection of criminal offences. Criminal investigations are legally the government’s responsibility. Little by little, citizens have started to play an increasingly prominent role in this process. The big question is: how can citizens be given a role in investigations, when this task has actually been assigned to the government?”

You’re sitting next to your aunt at a birthday party. How would you explain your research subject to her?

“Which contributions are you and I allowed to make to a criminal investigation? Citizens play a role in these processes. Take programmes like Opsporing Verzocht [the Dutch version of Crimewatch], or someone who posts a picture of his stolen car on Facebook. My research shows that criminal legislation and the criminal justice process do not take effective account of their role. While they are involved in the detection process, this involvement is not supervised according to regulations. This gives citizens considerable scope for taking on an active role in the investigation of criminal offences. The question remains whether this is desirable.”

In which way will your thesis make the world a better place?

Smiling: “As a legal expert, you need to know your place. What’s most important to me is that we reflect on this development. The growing involvement of private citizens in criminal investigations is creating a whole new domain. It would be good if we gave thought to how we intend to structure it. We all want criminal investigations to go well, so I hope that my thesis can contribute to our thinking on this development.”

Of the people your name in your acknowledgements, who turned out to be more important than you assumed?

Team West, the unsolved crimes programme from Omroep West. I tagged along with them to find out more about the lines of communication with the police and the public prosecutor’s office. It allowed me to see up close how journalists, police spokespersons and the public prosecutor work together within criminal investigations. I hadn’t expected everyday practice to have such a strong bearing on my research. Legal research is often based on a review of the literature. Things may be arranged in a certain way in legislation; but in real life, they are occasionally handled very differently.”

How will you be celebrating your doctorate?

“I got married not too long ago and had a big celebration, so I’m kind of done with partying for the moment. I’m not really in ‘party mode’ yet, although I do see it as a milestone.”

The cover

“Theses don’t necessarily have the most exciting covers, which is why I got in touch with an illustrator. You can see my hands, which represent the hand of a police officer and a citizen respectively. Together they form the silhouette of a tracker dog: police and citizens working together on detection. Unfortunately,some people don’t see it straight away.”