Police collectively call in sick in protest against violence towards officers
Almost 30 officers in the Brussels-North police division called in sick this week in an act of protest following an incident in which a minor attacked an officer with a knife.
The incident comes on the heels of the fatal stabbing of a young Brussels police officer, and law enforcement agents say not enough is being done to keep them safe on the job.
Het Laatste Nieuws and Het Nieuwsblad report that the staff of the Brussels-North police force say the most recent incident is having a severe impact on staff, but that police stations will remain open.
“Indeed, an incident occurred on Sunday evening,” said Brussels prosecutor's office spokesperson Willemien Baert.
“The police found an 11-year-old boy in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode who had run away. When the officers wanted to take him into custody, the boy resisted and hit an inspector with an applied folding knife. No one was injured in the process and the young man was able to be taken away.”
Baert said that “these are facts that took place in a very specific context” and while the minor was released, police do intend to follow up on the situation.
Judicial sources said the boy is struggling with a very specific issue and is being monitored well by his parents, but that things unexpectedly went wrong on Sunday night.
But police are already on edge following the murder of officer Thomas Monjoie, who was stabbed to death while on duty by a man who shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ after earlier expressing a desire to harm police officers, specifically.
His murder prompted a number of questions about whether enough had been done to prevent it, and since then frustrations from officers have only continued to mount.
“It is another incident where someone tries to stab a police officer, and that person is immediately released,” police sources told Belga.
“We have such incidents with stabbing weapons every week. A week before our colleague was stabbed, someone with a samurai sword was picked up, who was also released immediately. Recently, a minor also threw ammonia at a police officer.”
Police say that if the police officer is not injured or does not report the incident, no follow-up occurs.
“Only when there are serious injuries, action is taken,” the sources told Belga.
“But a lot of policemen do not report or continue working even if they are slightly injured because they do not want to let their colleagues down. In this way, nothing remains of the so-called zero tolerance.”
These police officers, who wished to remain anonymous, said that incidents with knives occur every week in the Brussels-North police area, specifically.
“The police are not always involved, but these are serious acts, which are not followed up on,” they say, adding that the justice system simply does not have the capacity to put all the suspects in prison.
Likewise, migrants must be sent to special reception centres instead of prison, but these are also full as Belgium continues to grapple with a migration crisis.
“These people create their own parallel world where drugs are sold,” police sources said. “As police officers, we want to help, but we ourselves are not given the help we need to do so.”
Officers have indicated that the calling-in-sick protest could spread to other Brussels municipalities in the lack of serious action taken to combat violence against police officers.
In the meantime, the mayors of Schaerbeek and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode called on the federal government and the Brussels region to look into the security situation in the neighbourhood of Brussels-North rail station.
“I think we now need to bring together the federal and regional partners who play a role in the neighbourhood in terms of prevention and security policy to solve the problems in a structural way,” said Cécile Jodogne (DéFI), acting mayor of Schaerbeek.
“All the sectors that could be invested at the level of the local police or the administration have been invested and we have reached the end of what we could put in place.
"I think that we now need to bring together the federal and regional partners who have a role to play in the district in terms of prevention and security policies in order to be able to resolve the problems in a structural manner.”
Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, agreed, adding that the security of the North Quarter should be the “absolute priority of everyone”.
Despite 30 officers calling in sick, the Brussels-North police division said it was doing its utmost to maintain public security in the area.