Dutch police used force in 14,507 incidents last year

Dutch police officers arrest a suspect
Dutch police officers arrest a suspectPhoto: Politie

In 2019, police officers in the Netherlands used force in 14,507 incidents. In these incidents, officers used force 23,939 times and implements of violence, such as batons and pepper spray, 27,574 times, the police said in a statement on Monday.

The police started using a new registration for force in 2019. Instead of just the most violent measure used in an incident being recorded, the new method records all uses of force per incident. According to the police, this provides more insight into the violence used by police officers during their work.

The police officer reports any violence used to an auxiliary officer, who decides whether it should be added to the register. This happens when an officer uses their firearm, if more than minor injuries were sustained as a result of the force used, or if the assistant public prosecutor decides it is necessary. 

Last year the police established a Use of Force Committee to review incidents in which police officers used violence that were added to the register. According to the police, nearly 1,800 incidents were reviewed in this context. In 88 percent of the cases, the committee judged the use of force to be professional. Of the remaining 159 cases, the committee judged that there were skill shortcomings that could be improved. In “a number of cases”, disciplinary action was taken against a police officer, the police said. Over 50 files are still being assessed.

Last year, the police unit Den Haag had the most incidents of force used at 3,352. Amsterdam followed in second place with officers using force 3,203 times, followed by the Oost-Nederland unit at 3,121, and the Rotterdam unit at 3,032.The National Unit used force least often with 297 incidents, followed by the Limburg unit with 1,281.

When it came to the type of force used, physical violence without any form of weapon was most common. Police officers used physical violence, such as restraining someone or forcing someone to the ground, 16,328 times or in 59 percent of cases. Firearms were used 2,225 times or in 8 percent of cases, pepper spray and baton were used 1,400 and 1,728 times respectively, each in 6 percent. 

A study by VU University Amsterdam and Regioplan Beleidsonderzoek into force used by the police in 2016 showed that there were hardly any changes in the extent and background of force used compared to the years 2000, 2005, and 2010. The researchers did, however, notice that officers were more likely to use a weapon like pepper spray or firearm instead of physical violence.

According to the researchers, this could be because police officers are now more attentive to their own safety and therefore prefer to keep more distance with suspects. Another factor could be that officers are now more often deployed to emergency or escalating situations, than just sent out patrolling. 

In the majority of cases in which officers used force in 2016, this happened after one or more warnings, the researchers found. In half of the cases, the suspect was the first to use violence.

 Frank Paauw, in charge of the force portfolio at the police, is satisfied with the new registration system. “This way we can be better accountable and learn from applied violence,” he said. “In this way we remain sharply focused on violence. After all the violence monopoly comes with a great responsibility.”