Policing the expanding city. The changing relationship between police and population in Antwerp from 1840 to 1914

Start - End 
2013 - 2017 (ongoing)
Other institution(s) 
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Region 
Additional tags 
Police-public relations
Urban history
Conflict regulation



This research project focusses on the changing relationship between the police and the public in Antwerp between 1840 and 1914. In the second half of the nineteenth century the port city of Antwerp grew rapidly under the influence of economic recovery and urbanization. The explosion of Antwerp’s population and size was flanked by large investments in the city’s local police force, which resulted in a police presence ten times stronger (in relative numbers) at the eve of the First World War. This research examines how this increase in police activity influenced the relationship between the police and the population in the long term, and how the inhabitants incorporated the police and the justice system in their own strategies of conflict regulation. Building upon the rich 19th century police archives of the city of Antwerp, it uses police reports, police registers, annual records of registered offences, and city council debates to examine shifts in police priorities, the scale and type of offences, the socio-economic background of offenders and complainants, and the strategies employed by both police and public. These long term shifts are also explored geographically through plotting in GIS.



Margo De Koster (VUB)

Barbara Deruytter (UGent)

Toon Vrints (UGent)





Margo De Koster

Free University of Brussels