Commission blames lack of police professionalism for undercover cop's suicide
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The suicide of an undercover police officer was directly related to his work, a commission appointed to investigate the case determined. The Brouwer Committee made its "hard but unavoidable conclusion" on the basis of research it conducted into the much-discussed incident. According to the commission, there was much to be desired with regard to the professionalism of the WOD team, the department of the national branch of the police which carries out undercover operations.
The committee, led by the Frisian mayor and former public prosecutor Oebele Brouwer, released its findings on Wednesday. "This policeman did important and dangerous work for us as a society," says Brouwer. "It's terrible to see it end so tragically."
The undercover officer involved worked from early 2020 until his death in April under severe and risky conditions during an operation in Zevenbergschen Hoek, Noord-Brabant, which targeted an alleged drug criminal. The Public Prosecution Service suspects Joop M. of large-scale cocaine trafficking and money laundering.
The police officer posed as his jovial neighbor and fostered a bond with M. and his partner. Over time, he became trapped, and finally succumbed to the pressure. Too little was done about the signs that he was not doing well.
"We can see that the operative pretended to be better than he probably felt. And we also saw that he sometimes consciously concealed things. Still, there were sufficient signs that could and should have been picked up," Brouwer said.
"The chief of police and I do not find that acceptable," said Ferd Grapperhaus, the minister of security and justice, in response.
According to the Brouwer Committee, caring for the mental well-being of undercover police officers must come first. It is dangerous work and demands a great deal from the officers involved. Mental stability is crucial for an operative, the commission said.
In 2007, authorities moved to better professionalize the WOD team, but this has not led to significant improvement. The team's successes depend on the personal qualities of the individual employees and do not stem from the professionalism of the organisation, the committee concludes.
Grapperhaus said the findings were "disconcerting." He said a follow-up investigation will, and measures will be undertaken to improve the situation. "This should never happen again."
He stated that psychologists and other experts will be made available to the WOD staff, and teams will be made smaller. All ongoing covert operations are being re-screened to determine if they can proceed responsibly. In addition, more attention must be paid to the management and supervision of undercover officers. Three million euros will be made available for these measures.
Various investigations have uncovered problems at the national branch of the police department in recent years. In June, the head of the unit, Jannine van den Berg, announced her departure. She will step down at the end of the year. In October, Marjolein Smit, head of the Specialized Operations Service (DSO) of the police, announced her departure.
Persistent problems and unrest within the service were the reason for this.
Reporting by ANP