Law enforcement in Belgium
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Law enforcement in Belgium is conducted by an integrated police service structured on the federal and local levels, made up of the Federal Police and the Local Police. Both forces are autonomous and subordinate to different authorities, but linked in regard to reciprocal support, recruitment, manpower mobility and common training.
In 2001, the Belgian police underwent a fundamental structural reform that created this completely new police system. A Belgian parliamentary report into a series of pedophile murders accused the police of negligence, amateurism and incompetence in investigating the cases. The loss of public confidence in the police was so great that the whole population deemed the reform indispensable.
The three former police forces, the municipal police, the national law enforcement service (Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie) and the judicial police (assigned to the offices of the public prosecutors) gave way to an integrated police service structured on two levels.
The Federal Police (Dutch: Federale Politie; French: Police Fédérale; German: Föderale Polizei) conducts specialized law enforcement and investigation missions that cover more than one region in Belgium. The Federal Police has approximately 12,500 personnel that provide support units for the Local Police and the federal police itself.
There are three operational divisions within the Federal Police:
- the Algemene Directie Bestuurlijke Politie/Direction Générale Police Administrative (English: General Directorate Administrative Police) have two functions: they perform specially assigned law enforcement tasks and deliver all kinds of support to the other departments and the Local Police: the Traffic Police (Wegpolitie/Police de la Route), Air Police (Luchtvaartpolitie/Police Aéronautique), Railway Police (Spoorwegpolitie/Police des Chemins de fer), the Waterway Police (Scheepvaartpolitie/Police de la Navigation), the General Reserve (riot police, prisoners transport, special protection and escorts, Mounted Police) (Algemene Reserve/Réserve Générale), the Royal Escort (Koninklijk Escorte/Escorte Royale), Dog Support Service (Dienst Hondensteun/Appui Canin) and the Air Support Service (Dienst Luchtsteun/Appui Aérien).
- the Algemene Directie Gerechtelijke Politie/Direction Générale Police Judiciaire (English: General Directorate Judicial Police) investigate heavy, organised and interregional crimes (local crimes are investigated by the Local Police), and conduct proactive and reactive investigation. These investigations involve human and drug trafficking, criminal organisations and groups, murder, armed robbery, fraud, corruption, forgery and missing persons.
- the Algemene Directie Ondersteuning en Beheer/Direction Générale Appui et Gestion (English: General Directorate Support and Management) delivers human resources, financial and general management to the police organization: recruitment, training, staff management, medical, legal affairs, internal affairs, equipment (standards for both Federal and Local Police are the same), logistics, infrastructure, finance...
The Federal Police is led by a Commissioner General. The Commissioner General's Office is responsible for contacts with the local police, integrated police operations, coordination and external communication. The International Police Cooperation Division (CGI) is Belgium’s national central bureau for the European Police Office (Europol), Schengen Information System and International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).
The local police (Dutch: Lokale Politie; French: Police Locale; German: Lokale Polizei) is made up of 196 police forces constituted from the former communal and gendarmerie brigades. 50 police forces cover the territory of one municipality (one-city zone) and 146 cover more than one municipality (multi-city zone). The local police can be compared to municipal police forces.
Each local police chief is responsible for the execution of local law enforcement policy and ensures the management, organization and distribution of missions in the local police force. She or he works under the authority of the mayor in one-city zones, or under a police board composed of all the mayors from the different municipalities in a multi-city police zone.
Its philosophy envisions a global and integrated approach to security based on maximum visibility focusing police activities on a limited area, which should optimize contact between the police and the population. It aims to restore public confidence in the police force and of improve the objective and subjective feeling of security in communities.
Each police force consists of an operational cadre of police and auxiliary police plus civilian personnel for administrative and logistic work. At the moment, approx. 33,000 local police and 900 civilians work in the 196 regional police forces.
The numerical strength of the police is determined by the police board for multi-city zones or by the town council for one-city zones, which must match the minimal standards set by law. Also a Permanent Commission for the Local Police represents all local police services at national level and provides advice on all problems relating to the local police.
To guarantee a minimum service to the population, Belgian law provides six basic functions for the local police: Community policing, responsiveness, intervention, victim support, local criminal investigation and maintaining public order.
- Community policing consists of developing neighborhood relations and maintaining police visibility. This mission is not merely one of maintaining a physical presence but also of local dialogue, exchange of ideas and personal relationships. The norms call for at least 1 community officer per 4,000 inhabitants.
- Responsiveness means giving answers to citizens who appear in person, call by phone or write to the police. Sometimes they are directed to an internal service or a more suitable external service. Each police zone maintains a permanent point of contact. In the multi-city-zones, each city or municipality has its own police-post which, if not accessible 24 hours a day, gives citizens the opportunity to get in touch with the police.
- The intervention function consists of responding to all calls, where police intervention is needed, within an appropriate time. This response can be, depending on the case and the context (seriousness, necessity, circumstances), immediate or delayed; in this last case, the inquirer must be informed about the cause of the delay and the duration.
- The victims unit gives assistance to victims of crime. Each police officer is expected to give victim support. In serious cases, the police force may use a police officer specially trained to handle victims.
- The local criminal investigation unit supports local police in the investigation of local crime. In each local police force, about 7 to 10 percent of the force’s personnel work for the investigations division.
- Maintaining public order means protecting or, when necessary, restoring public order, security and public health. This not only means maintaining public order at large events such as demonstrations, football matches or local festivities but also environmental problems and traffic.
The Federal Police doesn't have a hierarchical relationship with the Local Police. Instead, there is a functional connection between the two entities. Both the Federal and the Local Police are built up hierarchically, with the same ranks.
The rank insignia are rectangular plates that are worn on the left pocket flap of the uniform shirt, fleece, sweater, jacket, coat and/or bulletproof vest. On the right side pocket flap, a similar plate is worn, displaying the officer's name and a separating line with underneath the name of the force and/or unit the officer belongs to. In some cases (mostly commissioned officers) the function is displayed (e.g. "Commissioner-General). This plate also has orange/red (Federal Police), light blue (Local Police) or silver (General Inspection) lines, but mirrored, so that the lines are on the left side.
The color of the insignia and the officer's name, function/unit/force and the separating line depends on the cadre that the officer belongs to. Silver is used for all auxiliary, base and middle ranks (up to Chief Inspector), gold is used for all officer ranks.
Rank markings on helmets
When performing public order maintenance operations (e.g. demonstrations and riots), police personnel wears a helmet in situations with increased risk of violence. The helmets are white because that color is easier to spot by cameras and police helicopters. The helmet is plain white for Inspectors and more junior ranks). Chief-Inspectors (who are section chiefs) wear helmets with one blue stripe running from back to front. Commissioners (who are platoon chiefs) have two blue stripes.
Some officers, often belonging to intervention units (patrol units), only wear the rank plate and not the name plate on their uniform whilst on duty. This is to prevent malevolent persons from identifying and subsequently threatening or harassing them as a revenge for being subject of police operations. This is more common in urban areas than in rural (calmer) areas.
- Police Training
- Belgian Police homepage
- Official site of the Belgian federal government
- History of Belgium: Primary Documents
- USC Center on Public Diplomacy Nation Profile
- "Policing Profiles of Participating and Partner States". OSCE. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- "Belgium to reform police". 1998-05-24. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- "The integrated police: who does what?". Police Fédérale. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- "Policing Profiles of Participating and Partner States; Local Police". Retrieved 2009-03-16.