Unions representing police officers have criticised a new report by the P Committee, the body that oversees police matters, and a proposal to allow the authorities to set traps for officers suspected of being involved in theft or corruption.
The Committee suggests it might be possible to set up suspected officers in two ways. First, it gives the example of a warrant to search a house, in which a sum of money has been secreted, and which search is being filmed. The idea being to trap the officer into stealing the money.
The second example would involve “mystery shoppers” – investigators posing as members of the public and reporting found property to a police officer to see if he will turn it in correctly or keep it for himself.
The principle of the mystery shopper has proved controversial when it was suggested to detect discrimination in the jobs market and elsewhere. It was used, however, in the VRT investigative programme Volt in 2012, when members of the production team handed in wallets containing cash to police stations. Of the ten wallets handed in, three went missing and the other seven were logged in correctly.
The Committee points to the fact that such traps are commonly used in other countries, including the United Kingdom and France. “I was surprised to find that, although police officers in other countries were aware that such techniques are in use, nevertheless there are those who walk into the trap,” said Kathleen Stinckens, chair of the Committee. “You would think that anyone who knows this sort of trap can be set up would not be caught, but apparently they are, and it is efficient.”
Vincent Houssin, vice-president of the VSOA/SLFP union, is set against the so-called “integrity test”. “They give it a pretty name, but in fact it’s no more than entrapment – and provocation or entrapment of a police officer is forbidden. So, if they want to bring this in, they’ll have to change the law, including for us. Because they’re not going to carry out checks that are not supported by ordinary police officers. If so, then we as police officers will be able to leave a wallet in a cafe to see what happens.”
For the union, social control within the police is important, and must come from within the police force itself. “Not with the aim of constantly standing behind every officer to see what he’s doing with his hands, but by working together in a team,” Houssin said. “Then you can step in immediately when there’s something going wrong, and help coach young officers.”