Computer says solved: Police hope AI advances can crack cold cases

Police are turning to digital technology to try to solve some of the 1,500 'cold cases' that remain unsolved in the Netherlands. The national police force is in the process of digitising its entire cold case archive, which runs to around 25 million pages of material. Currently only around 15 per cent of evidence on file is stored digitally. The transfer will enable police to analyse the evidence by computer, speeding up the process from several weeks to around a day. Artificial intelligence will also select which of the inquiries, which include around 1,000 murders, are worth reopening. The new developments are being presented at a technology conference later this week where the public will also be invited to suggest ways that AI can be used in cold cases. Investigations specialist Roel Wolfert told NOS: 'Systems like this will allow us to do much more in future, such as seeing connections between cases. It may be we can apply it to live cases too.' It is not the first inventive method Dutch police have come up with to deal with the backlog of unsolved cases. Last year a 'cold case calendar' was distributed around prisons with details of 52 crimes to encourage inmates to come forward with information. The initiative led to seven investigations being reopened and has been repeated this year.  More >

Dutch bike total tops 22.7 million

The Dutch bike fleet is probably over 22.7 million by now - and that means 1.3 bikes for every man, woman and child, roads lobby group Bovag said on Wednesday. 'We can't give exact numbers because bikes don't have number plates and are not registered centrally,' a spokesman told news website Some 20 years ago, Bovag put the number of bikes at 16 million, or just over one bike per head of the population. Bovag bases its estimate on the population growth, the number of households and the fact that not every new bike which is bought is a replacement for an old one. Bovag said in March that bikes sales in the Netherlands had risen in 2017 after years of decline. Some 957,000 bikes were sold last year, 3.2% up compared to the previous year. One in three of bikes sold was an electric bike.  More >

Lack of insects hits house martins

Bird protection organisation Vogelbescherming has named 2018 the Year of the House Martin in an effort to call attention to the dramatic decline of this migratory bird in the Netherlands, public broadcaster NOS reports. Together with bird research group Sovon, Vogelbescherming has mobilised a group of volunteers to find the cause of the dwindling numbers of house martins. Since 1970 some 80% fewer house martins have been spotted in this country and it is thought that since 1920 the decline could be as much as 95%. ‘Their absence tells us something about how healthy our landscape is. Much has changed over the years,’ Sovon researcher Loes van den Bremer told NOS. Van den Bremer says the main cause for the house martin’s decline is the disastrous lack of insects in the Netherlands. ‘People would complain about hundreds flies stuck to the windshield, now that’s a thing of the past,’ Van den Bremer is quoted as saying. The way to bring back the house martin is to change agricultural practice Vogelbescherming says. ‘What is needed are fewer insecticides and more flowers on the edges of fields. Consumers can help by not opting for cheap products but for sustainably produced ones,’ Van den Bremer told NOS. House martins are expected to start flying in from Africa  in the next few weeks. Vogelbescherming says people can help it by making a little mud pool in their garden which the birds can use to build a nest.  More >

Traffic jams total 955 kilometres

Tuesday evening's rush hour was the most congested so far this year, with jams stretching a total of 955 kilometres, broadcaster NOS said. The situation on the A2, A12 and A27 was particularly bad, but there were also long jams on regional roads, due in part to very heavy rain in the south of the country. The longest jam recorded in the Netherlands was in October 2016 when the total reached 1,016 kilometres, the first time the 1,000 kilometre barrier had been broken.   More >

Flevoland province backs deer cull plan

Flevoland provincial council backs plans to reduce the number of large mammals on the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve to 1,100, which will mean the cull of 1,000 deer. A committee set up to look into the future of the reserve said last month the animal population should be reduced still further and that the wetland part of the reserve should be expanded. Now provincial officials have agreed to press ahead with the cull and to improve the vegetation on the reserve. They have set aside €3.2m for improvements but want the state to contribute to the total bill. More than half the 5,230 deer, ponies and cattle living on the reserve near Almere died this winter – most of which were shot by forestry commission staff because they were starving. Large mammals were introduced in the reserve in the 1980s and 1990s in what has proved to be a controversial move. Reserve wardens hoped that the deer and ponies would eat young shoots, keeping the area open so it will attract geese and other wetland birds. In the original plan, the reserve was to be linked to the Veluwe region, but that was scrapped as part of budget cuts. The province has been in charge of the reserve since 2016 and a majority of provincial councillors want to open the area up to tourism. Last weekend, activists cut through the fence surrounding the reserve in at least 21 places. Three deer which left the reserve and were wandering on the A6 motorway, were shot.  More >

Local jobs market key for refugees

More effort needs to be made to ensure refugees are placed in areas where there is work, and taking their background and education into account is also crucial, the government's macro-economic think tank CPB said on Wednesday. Currently, refugee numbers are determined by the size of the town - so bigger cities get more refugees. The refugee settlement agency COA does take job opportunities into account, but the CPB says this should be done more structurally. The CPB investigated how asylum seekers who were given residency permits between 1995 and 1999 had fared. If found those who moved to the Utrecht region were most likely to find work and the worst place for employment was southern Limburg. However, there were also major differences between groups of refugees. For example, the Rijnmond region and Amsterdam offered good job options for people from the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia but not other groups. The CPB said that by combining individual characteristics (gender, education, cultural background, network) with experiences from the past provides a clear picture of where a person has the best prospects of finding work.  More >

Talks stall on earthquake damage

Discussions between economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes and the authorities in Groningen about earthquake damages caused by gas extraction in  the northern province have stalled, broadcaster RTL Nieuws reported on Wednesday. There is disagreement about the strengthening of 1,588 houses in the region which were damaged by years of earthquakes. Representatives of Groningen provincial authority, 10 local authorities and two action groups have now broken off talks with the minister. The homeowners will have to wait until a decision is made on whether strengthening is really required now that gas extraction has been slowed. Wiebes said a decision will be made once his ministry ascertains the level of gas extraction in the future, a situation which has changed now that production has been cut back drastically. René Paas, king’s commissioner in Groningen, said the delay in decision-making was bad for confidence in the government if residents have to wait very long for promises to be fulfilled.  More >

Van Oord launches latest rock-laying ship

Van Oord, the Dutch family-owned dredging and offshore contracting group, has launched its latest specialty ship, the SRI (subsea rock installation) vessel Bravenes. Although Van Oord did not provide financial details of Bravenes, the vessel is believed to have cost between  €100m and €200m. The Rotterdam company invests an average of €200m a year. Van Oord is one of a handful of Dutch and Belgian companies which have developed specialised offshore sea bottom skills using RSI ships. RSI vessels provide rock cover to stabilise and protect subsea pipelines, cables and other structures at depths down to 1,500 metres. Van Oord has three of the eight RSI vessels operated by Dutch and Belgian firms.  Others are owned by Boskalis, Jan de Nul and Deme. The ship begins work on several Norwegian North Sea projects this week. In mid-July, the Bravenes will be carrying out stabilisation operations for Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that will stretch from Russia to Germany. Now  celebrating 150 years of operations, Van Oord booked 2017 turnover of more than €1.5bn. The company has a fleet of more than 10 ships and has a payroll of 3,500 who were engaged on 180 projects in 42 countries last year.  More >

Dutch state wins clean air case

The Dutch state does not have to take new measures to ensure Dutch air quality does not exceed EU pollution limits, appeal court judges ruled on Tuesday. However, the state is responsible for ensuring the limits are not exceeded, the court said in its ruling. In a fast-track hearing in September, judges gave the Dutch state two weeks to come up with a plan to drastically improve air quality and said ministers must publish a list of all the places in the Netherlands where pollution limits are being broken or may be broken in the future. That same court found in favour of the state in December in parallel legal proceedings outside the fast track procedure. Tuesday's ruling is an appeal against the September fast-track court decision. Milieudefensie, which brought the case, claims tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the Netherlands every year because of air pollution. In January, the Dutch health council called on the government to bring in much tougher rules on air quality and to follow the guidelines set down by the World Health Organisation rather than the EU. It claims that while pollution levels are within EU limits in most of the country, people are still being made ill by exposure to fine dust particulates, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. These pollutants can cause or worsen lung, heart and artery problems and are responsible for some 12,000 premature deaths a year, the council said. The government is due to present its plans for improving air quality at the end of this year.  More >