Identification Guarantees Abiding Law by Law Enforcement Officers

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In accordance with the ordinance of the Minister of the Interior from 2009 on uniforms, Polish police officers are required to wear an identification patch with the first letter of their first name and their surname or service number on their uniform when on duty.[1] There are exceptions to this rule.

One of them, which raises reasonable doubts, are officers operating within riot units (i.e. officers safeguarding demonstrations, sports events, etc.). Just before EURO 2012, the identifiers of their unit were introduced for precrime officers.[2] On this basis, it is possible only to identify a group of dozen or so officers, but not a specific single person.

Unfortunately, the regulation, which was meant to protect police officers from recognition and possible harassment, has become an immunity for the officers of riot units breaking the law. In the media, cases of abuse of power and misuse of direct use of force measures by officers reappear and, what is shocking, discontinuation of court proceedings held against police officers who violate the law, due to the inability to identify the perpetrator of the act.

For several years, the necessity to change the regulations concerning the identification of officers performing tasks in riot units has been raised. The Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to the Minister of the Interior and Administration to take appropriate steps in this matter as early as 2020.[3] A draft amendment to the commented regulations by the Lewica party was also proposed, but it did not enter into force.

Interestingly, the police labor unions spoke favorably, and even the Police Commander-in-Chief, Inspector General Jarosław Szymczyk announced the introduction of an obligation to wear identifiers on the uniforms of police officers with special numbers allowing the identification of a specific officer. [4]  Despite a year and a half, we have not seen any changes.

It should be noted that no one is calling for the obligation to put the name on the uniform of police officers safeguarding demonstrations. Identifier should be an alphanumeric string of letters or numbers that allows courts, the prosecutor’s office or the Police Internal Affairs Office, after decoding, identification of a specific officer who has overstep his authority. Such solutions exist in many countries, the most widely known example in Poland is Germany.

Another example is Spain, which also has an obligation to wear visible identification numbers of officers safeguarding demonstrations. The patch with the number has a specific size, is attached with Velcro, and in 2013 it was made clear that it must be easily visible. Previously, many officers wore vests covering the number.[5]

Each time the equipment is collected from the warehouse, a number is assigned to a specific officer for one day and recorded in a special register, so it is not possible to track police officers without access to the aforementioned register (the so-called Doxing).

According to a report commissioned by the Hong Kong Independent Police Board (IPCC)[6], the obligation to wear identification numbers or a visible name tag during operations in riot units exists in various forms, including in:

  • Canada (regulated at the provincial level);
  • United States (regulated at a specific police department, state or county level, no federal obligation);
  • Denmark;
  • Germany (specified at the level of the Länder);
  • Norway:
  • Sweden;
  • Australia (regulated at the state level).

When undertaking an intervention, police officers should be protected by the state, and must not be afraid to take actions aimed at enforcement of the law. Hence, one should attempt to create clear regulations and good training of officers, which automatically increases the prestige and appreciation of the service. The duties and powers of the police should be clearly defined (for both “ordinary” citizens and officers), and those who break the law in a police uniform should not be protected, which lowers confidence in the entire formation.

This is another opportunity to break the deadlock and introduce this needed legislation. On June 26, 2022, a draft of amendment to the Police Act was introduced. The draft would make it mandatory to display a police officer’s identification number prominently on his or her uniform and helmet or cap, including when operating in a riot unit. It is worth noting that the regulation of this issue is to be elevated to the status of an act, not an ordinance, as is the case to date.

The draft has not yet received a parliamentary print number. It has been sent for an opinion by the BAS, the Legislative Office and for consultation. The draft was brought by a group of MPs from PiS, PS, Konfederacja and Poland 2050 (Polish parties). The non-partisan character gives hope that it could be a success this time.

Leaving aside the specific proposed solutions, we should follow the development of the abovementioned project. If in the course of the works it is decided that the problem should be solved differently, it is obvious that the Ministry of Interior and Administration may come up with its own ideas (the works have already been carried out, which was confirmed by the commander-in-chief himself).

Human rights organizations, journalists and citizens who value the right to protest should closely follow the outcome of this proposed legislation. Let us not allow the change to be delayed for the next dozens of years – to another public debate about the abuse of power by the officers during the demonstration, and after a few more months about their impunity.


Written by: Bartłomiej Jabrzyk


References:

[1] Rozporządzenie Ministra Spraw Wewnętrznych i Administracji z dnia 20 maja 2009 r. w sprawie umundurowania policjantów z póź. zm. https://isap.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/download.xsp/WDU20090900738/O/D20090738.pdf;

[2] https://www.rp.pl/policja/art36658211-policjanci-bez-tajemnic-bedzie-latwiej-ich-zidentyfikowac

[3] Pismo RPO do ministra MSWiA z dnia 11.12.2020 roku;

https://nszzp.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/RPO_do_MSWiA_ws_sposobu_-identyfikacji_-policjantow_11.12.2020.pdf

[4] https://infosecurity24.pl/sluzby-mundurowe/policja/koniec-z-bezimiennymi-policjantami-kgp-chce-identyfikatorow-w-pododdzialach-zwartych

[5] https://www.thelocal.es/20130401/riot-police-shield-themselves-in-numbers-game/

[6] https://www.ipcc.gov.hk/doc/tc/report/thematic_report/research/university/International%20Norms:Governing%20Police%20Identification%20&%20the%20Wearing%20of%20Masks%20During%20Protest.pdf

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