The shortage of federal police officers has increased over the past few years and now stands at 16.3%, Home Affairs Minister Pieter De Crem said in the Chamber on Tuesday.
He was responding to questions by Socialist Party legislator Eric Thiébaut, Meryame Kitir of Socialistische Partij Anders (sp.a) and Jessika Soors (Ecolo-Groen).
The head of the sp.a in parliament wishes to call a meeting of the commission tasked with following up the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into the terror attacks.
In absolute terms, the number of police officers has remained stable. However, in 2016, when then police commissioner Catherine De Bolle addressed the commission of inquiry into the attacks, the deficit had already reached 14%. Queried in February 2019, the minister attributed the gap to additional missions for the police, especially since the start of the terrorist threat. In 2014, the shortage had been estimated at 4.5%.
Over the past two years, the emphasis had been placed on recruitment, particularly in the fight against terrorism. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the recruitment of 1,400 inspectors was planned, while the recruitment framework was raised to 1,600 units, and the procedures for both selection and deployment on the ground were accelerated. However, the shortage on the labour market, which is being felt in all sectors, has complicated matters.
The situation is worrying the sp.a. In June 2017, the investigation commission had highlighted the shortage of police officers, noting that the framework of 13,500 officers, set in 2015, did not correspond to the situation on the ground. In February 2019, the minister referred to 12,145 federal policemen and women.
“We’re not going to wait until something happens again, jolts us awake and makes us realise how much the shortage of staff is an urgent problem,” said Ms. Kitir. “Not enough people have been taken on. You need to take people going off on retirement into consideration. Two years on, the increase in the deficit is a terrible mess.”
There are also problems with investing in equipment: first-response vehicles, radio equipment, and IT equipment for units that fight cybercrime.
The fact that, since December the Government is limited to everyday business and a provisional budget issued on a monthly basis significantly complicates matters, the minister said.
A solution could be found by making internal adjustments to the police budget. De Crem is scheduled to make a proposal in this regard on Friday at the next Council of Ministers meeting.