3000 Dutch cops on long-term sick leave as Unions criticize culture of fear

Since the establishment of the National Police in 2013, some 3 thousand police officers were placed on long-term sick leave and are now sitting at home with hardly any contact with their employer, Jan Struis, chairman of Dutch police union NPB, said on EenVandaag on Thursday. According to him, many of these cops were put on sick leave after expressing criticism about the police, ANP reports.

According to the NPB and other police union ACP, the police organization can't handle internal criticism. Police officers who give critique are not taken seriously, bullied or harassed in another way. ACP wants to talk with National Police Chief Erik Akerboom and Minister Stef Blok of Security and Justice about this problem.

The unions were responding to a case EenVandaag reported on, based on a secret recording of a conversation inside the police the program managed to get hold of.  In the recording, the benefits of discharging an officer on medical grounds, thereby reducing UWV benefit costs, are discussed. This specific case involved a long ongoing labor conflict, in which a mediator was appointed to mediate between the officer and the police, according to the program. In the absence of the officer involved, the mediator told the department head that it would be beneficial to discharge her on psychological reasons.

"It's outrageous, and not the only example of maladministration between management and staff. Criticism is not accepted, people are being bullied away, fear is created and tricks are used to expel someone from the organization", ACP chairman Gerrit van de Kamp said, according to NOS. Conversations with union members and lawyers revealed that there are more such cases, he added. "In many of these situations, things are hard to prove, people are struggling and don't feel up to a fight against the system."

According to the unions, the police brag about their guidelines for criticism and complaints, but in practice, these don't work. Criticism within the police has never been easy, because of the organization's hierarchical structure, according to NPB. 

The National Police denied the story EenVandaag reported on. "While we can refute this story on multiple points, we choose not to do so through the media. We don't find it appropriate to publish details of an employee if there is a labor conflict", the police wrote on their website. 

Department head Pim Miltenburg said that this conflict is not about criticism the officer expressed, according to NOS. "I know this case personally, and it is clear to me that his labor conflict is not about criticism", he said. "This is about a long ongoing process and we discussed this personally with this colleague."