Belgium saw a “huge increase” in the number of complaints from members of the public against the police in 2020, according to the committee P, which oversees police matters.
In 2019, the number of complaints received was 2,646. In 2020 the number went up to 3,112 – an increase of almost 20%.
The annual report of the committee, prepared for parliament, describes this increase as ‘huge’.
“More cases were closed in 2020 than in 2019 (1,466 versus 1,315). Also this year, we again find that in more than 70% of the final decisions taken, cannot be found to be based on an individual or organisational dysfunction. Nevertheless, there has been an increase in the number of deficiencies,” the report states.
Most of the complaints concerned the behaviour of a particular officer, followed by complaint of officers failing to do their job properly or even at all. For example, failin gto turn up at the scene of an incident, or refusing to make a report of an alleged offence.
The reason for the increase in complaints, according to the committee, the the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Corona certainly played a role,” said committee chair Kathleen Stinckens on VRT Radio 1 this morning.
“We received 500 corona-related complaints in 2020. And those complaints are very diverse. Including the way the measures were enforced, the lack of clarity among the population, the need to stop lockdown parties, whether or not to wear a mask, or respect for social distancing.”
The report does not lay the entire blame on the police, who were after all as unaccustomed to the lockdown measures of 2020 as everyone else.
“The various authorities and experts have not always communicated clearly and unambiguously,” the report reads. “A common thread about all of this is the lack of consistency and clarity in the provisions of the ministerial decrees and the associated FAQs of the National Crisis Centre. This left room for divergent interpretations,” The committee suggests.
“The Committee P therefore believes that this problem was of a nature as to reduce the willingness among (some of) the citizens to respect the measures, that it also increases the chance of incorrect execution of the tasks by the police services, and that the credibility of the police could suffer as a result.”