Police internal investigations biased: Ombudsman

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National Ombudsman Frank van Dooren believes that there is a macho culture within the Dutch police force, and that executives within the police are too quick to turn a blind eye to any accusals of excessive force used by their officers, NU.nl reports.

Since last year, with his publishing if the Responsible Police Use of Force report, the National Ombudsman has been concerned about the internal culture of the police. He argues that officers are too quick to stand up for their own people, which "gives the impression that officers cover up for each other", Van Dooren tells NU.nl

The Ombudsman believes that in any accusations of police brutality, officers need to support internal investigation, and should not protect each other.

NU.nl received various citizen tips over the last months claiming they have been abused by police officers. NU.nl writes that this creates the image that officers are very quick to react with excessive force to any small provocation such as cursing or a light push.

Van Dooren says that there is a culture within the police force that does not allow for rational, professional conduct. He tells NU.nl that "police people generally have little self-confidence", and that officers panic when they have to work in an unfamiliar environment with colleagues that they do not know. He says that a good police officer is someone who has tough skin on the street and can then speak openly with colleagues.

"You have different kinds of officers. Some are good at de-escalating situations. Others are very flammable. Then you should be able to talk to each other about behavior, without being dismissed for it by the whole group", the Ombudsman says.

Police training now focuses more on speaking with each other internally, Van Dooren says. There is also more evaluation of incidents.

Police chief Ruud Bik has said in a police statement that the police is amazed at Van Dooren's conclusions. "The image that the Ombudsman sketches of the use of force by officers and the culture within our organization surprises and confuses me very much. Precisely because the police have the monopoly of force, it applies this very thoughtfully." After the report Van Dooren published about Police Force, steps were taken to improve internal police culture. "One example of that is the professional resilience program, which is aimed at making officers more resilient in this strongly changed society", the police spokesperson tells NU.nl.

According to the police spokesperson, internal evaluations are made when accusations of excessive force come in. The incident is then looked at, and measured to see whether the use of force was justified or not. If there are any doubts, the investigation is expanded. The spokesperson says that police training is now heavily focused on de-escalation techniques. "This means that officers use force if there are really no other options. Officers have to decide in a fraction of a second if they use force and which means is proportional."

For citizens who feel that they have been mistreated by the police, filing a complaint has to be done directly with the police, and not with the District Attorney, Van Dooren says. A complaints procedure with the police does take 10 to 14 weeks, which the Ombudsman finds excessive.

Van Dooren says that the speed of investigation is a point of improvement, but has understanding for it as well. "A complaint does have to be seriously investigated", the Ombudsman says. "All parties have to be heard. You don't accomplish that within a few days. An accuser then also has to have the patience to see the case seriously investigated."

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