BELGRADE – More than 50 professionals from police, prosecution, the international community, and civil society participated at the regional conference on criminal liability of police officers.

Civil society activists, police officers, and prosecutors from the region shared principled commitment to enhance and promote police integrity, at the conference “Criminal Liability of Police Officers in the Western Balkans”, held on 21 of December 2017 in Belgrade.

Following challenges were identified:

  • Consolidated records of criminal proceedings against the police officers are practically non-existent in the Western Balkans.
  • The largest numbers of filed criminal cases are against male lower-ranking police officers and usually for petty breaches of duty, abuse of power or bribe.
  • Communication between police internal control bodies and prosecution is loaded by formal legal and informal communication gaps.

Authorities in Serbia lack a precise record of criminal charges filed against the police officers. Still, the data gathered from the courts and prosecutors’ offices show that 115 criminal charges were dropped in 2016, mostly charges submitted by Ministry of Interior. The dropped charges make almost two-thirds of criminal charges submitted by Internal Affairs Sector in 2016. Most of them are for abuse of power and torture. The penal policy is lenient. The largest number of verdicts resulted in conditional discharges, stated legal researcher from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy Sofija Mandić.

“The largest number of applications has been rejected because there were no grounds for suspicion that a criminal offense has been committed. This is worrying trend because the majority of applications comes from the Internal Affairs Sector, an organizational unit with the greatest resource to suppress illegal behavior of police officers in Serbia”, Mandić added.

There are positive developments in Montenegro. Transparency of the police internal control bodies improved. The legal framework which regulated the cooperation between police and prosecution is in place. Police internal affairs inspectors are looking for an opinion from prosecution before the official start of the investigation. Nevertheless, the practice is still not satisfactory, explained public policy researcher Dina Bajramspahić.

“Citizens of Montenegro are losing trust in police. One of the reasons is the performance of police internal control mechanisms. Only 40 proceedings were filled. Most of them are for ethical breaches and only one corruption. Internal Control is colloquially named ‘the graveyard for police chiefs’. People rarely want to stay in that unit and don’t see it as career advancement, but as a punishment”, explained Bajramspahić.

Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s complex police system is a major obstacle in the processing and sorting of statistical data. Transparency is a huge issue. At the same time, it lowers the confidence of citizens towards the police. There are formal and informal barriers to cooperation among police internal control bodies and prosecution which often transfer responsibilities to one another because of weak results, states Mirela Hodović from the Centre for Security Studies.

“Key weaknesses is the independence of the internal control units. The number of staff within those units and the dynamics of their work are still unsatisfactory. The consequence, as the POINTPULSE public opinion survey indicates, is that only a quarter of citizens believe that police is not corrupt. Moreover, the lowest levels of citizens’ trust in the police in recent years is mainly caused by unfinished investigations”, concluded Hodović.

Only 10 cases were filed against police officers in Macedonia for criminal wrongdoings. That number in the past was more than 20 cases. However, the pressure on the prosecution to be effective in the investigation is now higher after the changes of the Government of Macedonia. Solving the wire-tap scandal is the key to strengthening integrity, highlighted Magdalena Lembovska from Analytica.

“There are high expectations from the Special Prosecution Office to resolve the ‘bombs’ – such as mass surveillance operation of the former Government. The issue of police using excessive force is also challenging. The police have used excessive force and torture during this year’s mass protests in Skopje. New institutional arrangement and wider reforms are necessary for the improvement of police integrity in Macedonia”, Lembovska pointed out.

The legal and institutional framework for building police integrity in Kosovo is mostly in place. The Kosovo Police Inspectorate is mandated to prevent, detect, document and investigate criminal offenses committed by employees of the police. However, the issue of operational independence of the Inspectorate is on the table. Most of the criminal proceedings initiated in Kosovo were against low-level policemen until summer of 2017 when a high-profile police officer was charged with corruption and blackmail, said Plator Avdiu from the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies.

„Kosovo has good institutional arrangements for police integrity building. Kosovo Police Inspectorate is the second body competent for internal investigations of corruption cases besides Internal Control Sector. This institution nevertheless needs more autonomy if it is to step up its fight against corruption. The cooperation between police internal controllers and prosecution is weak, and there are many doubts about the role of prosecution in police integrity testing“, Avdiu added.

Albania shared all problems with the rest of the region. However, there are high hopes for the judicial reform which follows years of pressure from the European Union and the United States, said Besjana Kuci from the Institute for Democracy and Mediation. The product of the reform should be 13 new institutions and new Special Court for Corruption and Organized Crime. Also, there are tensions in public since October when prosecutors asked the Parliament to remove the immunity of former minister of interior to allow them to investigate him on corruption charges.

“Information on court cases against police officers in Albania are scarce as the rest of region. More transparency and less bureaucracy are needed for adequate tracking of policy effects. Material damages caused by the criminal liability of police officers are less important than damages caused towards their public image and citizens’ trust. The former minister of interior denied any involvement in criminal activity”, stated Kuci.

During the second panel of the conference, representatives of the police internal control bodies, prosecution and regional initiatives from the Western Balkans have shared their experiences in the criminal prosecution of the police officers.

Police inspectors and prosecutors showed commitment to building integrity and fighting corruption in the police in the whole region. This is why numerous new tools have been developed in order to enable the prosecution of police officers – from prosecutorial investigation to integrity testing.

Criminal liability of police officers is an important topic that has not been substantially discussed so far, police inspectors and prosecutors said. There is an agreement that criminal proceedings against police officers are ‘special’ since prosecutors cooperate in the investigation with the police officers and the knowledge of the criminal justice that police officers obviously have.

Almost all professionals from the region agreed that there is a problem of keeping records and there is no consolidated methodology on criminal liability of police officers. Still, there are some positive steps to consolidate records of criminal proceedings. One of the police in the region started to develop software in order to resolve the issue of data collection.

Cooperation between police and prosecutors’ offices is still insufficient. The culture of impunity creates additional problems in attempting to prosecute police officers. The court proceedings last too long and the sentences are mostly reduced to suspensions, professionals concluded.

The conference “Criminal Liability of Police Officers in the Western Balkans” is a joint initiative of the regional POINTPULSE network of civil society and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, and marks the finalization of the third year of the project “Western Balkans Pulse for Police Integrity and Trust”. The conference is supported by the Netherlands Embassy in Serbia and the European Union through the program “Civil Society Facility”.

TAGS: AdvocacyAlbaniaBelgradeBosnia and HerzegovinaCivil SocietyConferenceCriminal LiabilityKosovoMacedoniaMontenegroSerbiaWestern Balkans