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Basic data on incidents of police brutality and racism do not exist, says report
There are no reliable figures regarding brutality, racism and discrimination by the police in Belgium, nor are police forces transparent when it comes to these issues. Those are the damning findings of the General Police Inspectorate, an independent body that monitors the functioning of the local and federal police.
Not only are data on police incidents not available to the justice system or the public, they are unknown among the corps themselves, according to the Inspectorate. The findings are part of the Inspectorate’s annual ‘vision paper’ on police procedure and accountability. The paper is titled ‘Are All Cops Incompetent?’
The document follows several disturbing incidents over the last year, including a Facebook group used by officers full of racist comments, the death of Jozef Chovanec at the Charleroi Airport and the death of Ibrahima B in police custody in Brussels.
Possibly even more concerning is the document’s claim that the federal police do not even have reliable records on deaths or injuries that are the result of the use of firearms. Forms filled out do not always contain information pertaining to civilians, sometimes more focused on injuries suffered by police officers instead.
‘No policy, no accountability’
The Inspectorate also notes that there is no clear policy regarding integrity, and that there is no system in place whereby police chiefs are informed if one of their employees has been convicted of a criminal offense. “There is currently no single policy regarding sanctions, no accountability along the entire hierarchy and too long a lapse between the date of the offense and the sanction,” reads the paper.
There are some 250 disciplinary authorities across the country, notes the Inspectorate, which a system in desperate need of simplification. There is an ethics committee, which “hardly ever meets” and “has very little effect.”
To that end, there is little to no screening of police officers in training, nor in the job itself, paving the way to extremism and influence by criminal syndicates, according to the Inspectorate.
The Inspectorate makes several suggestions, including the need for a database of violent incidents both by and against police officers, the development of a policy regarding integrity, more academic research carried out within the corps to create an objective basis for concerns and attitudes, a handbook of best practices and more diversity within the police forces.
Photo ©James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA