Only 28 final verdicts in 2016 and lenient penal policy cannot significantly contribute to the reduction of police corruption.
By Sofija Mandić (Belgrade Centre for Security Policy)
The Internal Control Sector of the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) in 2016 filed 20% more criminal charges against police officers and other employees of the MoI than in the previous year. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the outcomes of these proceedings, as well as the proceedings that were initiated in the previous years, have remained unknown due to the manner of keeping judicial records.
The data collected directly from the courts and prosecutors’ offices show that in the course of 2016 a significant number of criminal charges filed against members of the MoI were actually rejected. Many cases are still in the pre-trial phase. There have been few convictions – mostly for petty corruption and abuse of office. The defendants were mostly men – police officers with secondary education. Most commonly imposed sanctions were suspended sentences.
The small number of final [unappealable] convictions and lenient penal policy cannot significantly contribute to building the integrity of the police and the MoI or contribute to the reduction of corruption.
The long-term strategic objective of the MoI is to combat corruption and increase the responsibility of its employees. This objective is especially important for police officers; they are in daily contact with the citizens, and there is a high perception among the population of their susceptibility to corruption – as shown by the research performed by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCBP), this perception has remained around 70 percent for years.
The criminal liability of members of the MoI, and therefore the very integrity of the police, is threatened by three problems.
1. There is no record of criminal liability of the representatives of public authorities
Institutions that keep judicial records do not keep a separate record of the criminal prosecution of members of the MoI or other representatives of public authorities. This refers to the annual records of the Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office, registers kept by prosecutors’ offices and courts, and judicial records published by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia based on the information received from the courts.
The lack of records prevents more serious analysis of the results of combating corruption, but more broadly, it makes room for unlawful behavior of members of the MoI. That way, we remain deprived of complete information as to whether criminal prosecution, as the ultimate instrument used to protect the integrity of the police and employees of the MoI, is able to influence the most serious violations of the laws perpetrated by their members.
Because of the above circumstances, the BCSP started to collect data independently, requesting information on the criminal prosecution of members of the MoI from the first instance public prosecutor’s offices and courts. Together with the records of the Internal Control Sector on the number of criminal charges filed in the course of one year against members of the MoI, these data can roughly show the dynamics and outcomes of criminal prosecution.
2. A significant number of criminal charges filed against members of the MoI were rejected
In 2016, the Internal Control Sector has filed 201 criminal charges, which is 20% more than in the previous year (see chart below). The number of charges involving the criminal offense ‘abuse of office’ has increased the most, while the number of charges filed for accepting a bribe has significantly decreased. The number of charges filed for non-corruptive offenses has also been reduced.
Data obtained from the prosecutor’s offices show that as many as 115 criminal reports were rejected in 2016, mostly those involving the criminal act ‘ill-treatment and torture’ (20) and abuse of office (12). In eleven cases, the Institute of postponement of criminal prosecution has been used, mostly for the offense ‘negligent performance of duties’ (3). Sixty cases are in still in the pre-trial phase, most of them involving abuse of office (14). Criminal proceedings were initiated in 50 cases against 167 employees, mostly for abuse of office (10), acceptance of a bribe (8) and ill-treatment and torture (4).
As regards gender and education of employees who were the subjects of pre-trial and criminal proceedings, the majority of them happen to be men – provided data show that 121 of them are men while 17 are women. The majority of them have secondary education, and only in a small number of cases – higher or highest level education. The proceedings are carried out mostly against police officers, and very rarely against higher ranking staff. According to the information provided, criminal charges were filed against only one commanding officer, one chief, one head of the police administration department, and one police inspector.
3. Few convictions, petty corruption and suspended sentences
According to data provided by the courts, 28 final verdicts were issued in 2016 against members of the MoI – 9 acquittals and 21 convictions (see graph below). 27 members of the MoI were convicted. All of those convicted were men; 26 of them are police officers with secondary education. One of the persons convicted has a higher education, and one is a firefighter.
The most commonly imposed sanctions are suspended sentences (14), while prison sentences were imposed in 7 cases – lasting mostly six months to a year and a half. Also, one security measure was imposed.Convictions were pronounced for the criminal offenses of abuse of office (7), acceptance of bribes (3), illegal crossing of the state border and human trafficking (1), non-payment of alimony/child support (1), preventing a person from performing official duties (1), violent behavior (1), ill-treatment and torture (1) and murder (1).
- It is necessary to regulate the keeping of records in a manner that will enable monitoring of the criminal prosecution of members of the MoI, as well as other public sector employees. This may include the obligation to introduce occupation/employment as information that must be entered in the register of cases pending in the prosecutor’s offices and the courts; the obligation of the courts to uniformly enter and keep data on adults accused of criminal offences; merging records on the outcomes of criminal proceedings, kept by MoI.
- It is necessary to clarify and eliminate the reasons for the high percentage of dismissed criminal charges against members of the MoI, especially those filed by the Internal Control Sector as the body which, in relation to other internal controllers in the MoI, has the most resources, knowledge and police powers concerning data collection for the purpose of filing criminal charges.
- It is necessary to analyze the available evidence from other standpoints as well, i.e. the fact that all the defendants were men, and that they were almost exclusively police officers with secondary level education. These data can contribute to decisions that refer to education and other preventive measures intended for employees.
- It is necessary to open a public debate on the criminal prosecution of high corruption and higher ranking officers, and on the adequacy of suspended sentences as a means that is most widely used to deter members of the MoI from committing criminal offenses.
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 Regardless of whether criminal charges were pressed by the Internal Control Sector, other organizational units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, or citizens.
 Of all the basic and higher courts, the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy has received responses from 86 courts, that is, it has not received answers from five courts.
 Of all the basic and higher public prosecutor’s offices, the Belgrade Center for Security Policy has received answers from 81 public prosecutors, that is, it has not received a response from four public prosecutor’s offices.
 Elek, Bojan. 2017. Opinions of Serbian Citizens about the Police. Belgrade: Belgrade Center for Security Policy. <https://goo.gl/jik3bP>.