Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Interview with student liaison officer Paul Vermin
MAASTRICHT. Paul Vermin is his name, to be pronounced in the Dutch way as VERmin and not VURmin, which in English sound like the term used for ‘pests’ or ‘lowlifes’. The student liaison officer welcomes Observant into the police station’s canteen, on the corner of the Prins Bisschopsingel. Hearty and open, an attitude he also likes to adopt when dealing with students. “We don’t put a stop to house parties with a hundred students attending because we want to spoil the fun, but because of safety. What if something goes wrong?”
Maastricht has had a student liaison officer for about three years now, one for 20 thousand students. Try doing that.
“I used to be a policeman on the beat and occasionally came in contact with students, but to be honest, we had no idea of the student world. Associations, debating societies? Until we realised that they were everywhere in the city at all times: at the university, in pubs, and student buildings. At the request of those in charge I went to take a look in Groningen, where they had two policemen working fulltime as student liaison officers. That was a revelation; I really saw the added value. Students know exactly where to go with questions and vice versa. The lines are shorter, more transparent. I am open, tolerant, and easy to speak to and students make use of that. Some behave in a jovial fashion – in particular when alcohol is involved. They want to have their photo taken with me, tag along while I’m on duty, call out ‘hey Pauly’. During the Inkom, last week, a number of them wanted to ‘be put in handcuffs’. Well, that doesn’t bother me much; see it in its context. But don’t forget: I am a policeman, I do have a role. When they go too far, I let them know. At the same time: I don’t do this just by myself. That would be impossible. I work together with colleagues, the city council, fire brigade, university, neighbourhood platforms, et cetera.”
Looking back, what did you expect more of?
We made agreements with the boards of the larger associations, and I must say that the annual transfer – when the new board is appointed – gets better every year. With Onafhankelijk Maastricht (Independent Maastricht), which represents approximately thirty debating societies, things are much more difficult. Maybe they just don’t have a great interest.
There is also still considerable work to be done with foreign students. Did you know that there are an awful lot – from outside the European Union – who have no idea that our emergency number is 112? That many do not know it is against the law to drink beer on public streets or carry pepper spray?”
Since recently, alderman Mieke Damsma has student affairs in her portfolio. A step in the right direction? “It is taking shape, but I am curious to see what she will actually do in the coming years. We have regular consultations with the city council and the university, but I notice that plans to often are left ‘hanging’. For example, talks have taken place about the Safe Habitat certificate or about a large place of entertainment for foreign students, but nothing has been finalised yet. At the same time, I also look at our own organisation. In December, last year, there was a fatal shooting on the Oeverwal; they were looking for the shooter. Our reports were in Dutch. I say: Why not have them in English as well?”
According to many, students and noise hindrance are inseparable.
“There are certainly complaints, but that is only one side of the story. This is no longer the Maastricht of 35 years ago. Students are here to stay. They rejuvenate, they live and work here, spend money. But for the older generation, those born and raised in Maastricht, it is not always easy. I have a notorious complainer who experiences a lot of trouble from the student house next door. I have spoken to these students and, really, they have adapted very well. You couldn’t ask for more. Yet these people continue to feel troubled. They have even got themselves a lawyer. Well, then I think: There has to be a desire to build bridges. What do I do when someone shouts that all students should leave town? I don’t listen to them.”