Law enforcement in Poland
History of law enforcement in Poland
Pre 20th Century
During the period of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth's existence, most law enforcement was undertaken by a group of nobles of varying degrees of importance who possessed private armies and who, in return for political power and a place within the nation's social hierarchy, swore their allegiance, and that of their mercenary troops, to the king. As a result of the enduring power of a number of powerful 'magnates' within the social hierarchy, relative weakness of the 'elected' monarchs and continued existence of the feudal system in Polish society, centralised rule of law and enforcement of the same did not truly exist until the 1791 adoption of the 3rd May Constitution.
The Constitution aimed to weaken the golden freedoms of the upper classes and redistribute a portion of their power amongst the mercantile middle classes. In addition to this, the establishment of a majority-voting Sejm and increased centralisation of sovereign power under the authority of the king, led to the establishment of a standing army, provided for by the state and subordinate only to the king and authorities of the national government.
As a result of the 1772-1795 partitions of Poland, and subsequent rule of the partitioning powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia), the authority of King Stanisław August collapsed and the former territories of the commonwealth came under the direct supervision of their partitioning powers' law enforcement services.
In Austrian controlled Galicia, the Imperial Gendarmerie became responsible for preserving public order and later became known for being arguably the least oppressive of the three occupying powers. In both the Russian and German territories of the former Poland, it was widely reported that law enforcement agencies and paramilitaries engaged in both oppression of Polish political organisations and the forced assimilation of local culture with those of their own nations.
Post 1919 Independence until today
In 1919, with the re-independence of the Polish nation, the state reorganised itself along non-federalist lines and established a centralised form of government. Under the auspices of the new government, a new national police force was formed; this 'Polish State Police' (Policja Państwowa) then existed as the primary law enforcement agency for the entire nation up until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. During the inter-war period, a number of key law enforcement duties were delegated to other formations, such as the Border Guard and Military Gendarmerie.
With the end of World War II and the onset of the communist period, the new Soviet backed government decided to radically change to structure of policing in Poland; the state 'Policja' was renamed as the 'Milicja Obywatelska' (Citizen's Militia), a name which was meant to reflect a change in the role of the police, from an instrument of oppression ensuring the position of the bourgeoisie, to a force composed of, and at the service of 'normal citizens'.
The reality turned out to be largely the opposite and the Milicja instead represented a rather state-controlled force which was used to exert political repression on the citizens. The Milicja was for the most part, detested by the general populace; events such as the police's conduct during the Gdańsk Shipyard Strike and surrounding the Popiełuszko affair, only worsened the people's view of their law enforcement agencies.
After the fall of the communist government in Poland, the system was reformed once again, this time reviving the pre-war name of 'Policja' and albeit with a few minor changes, the general system of law-enforcement of the Second Republic.
Law enforcement agencies
As Poland is a largely centralised state, regional law enforcement agencies do not really exist in the way that they do in the United States, Canada, Germany or the UK. In Poland, the national police service Policja is directly responsible to the central government, and whilst it operates with an organisational structure that allows voivodeship commands to exist, the regional authorities do not have any major say in law enforcement policy, and cannot affect the day-to-day operations of their local force.
To counteract the effect of having a centrally controlled national police force, which could, it is argued, overlook minor criminal cases of only local importance, local communities are allowed to raise their own municipal police forces, which despite not being endowed with the power to perform arrests or carry weapons, do retain a number of other powers by which to ensure public order.
Failing the required effect of these powers, such municipal officers are also entitled to request the support of a member of the national police in detailing with their case. It should be noted however, that municipal forces cannot investigate criminal cases, and exist only to enforce local and national by-laws.
In addition to local and national 'police' forces, there are also a number of specialised agencies which operate with more specific objectives in mind.
A list of current law enforcement agencies created by national statute law (Ustawa):
- Policja (English: Police) - National police; officers are routinely armed and are organised into voivodeship (regional) commands. The Policja is further professionally organised into a number of different specialised units, such as the highway patrol corps and criminal (investigative) division. Policja is a Law enforcement agency.
- Straż Miejska (English: City guard) - Municipal police - Localized officers who have less powers than the Policja and are not as well armed but are known to be equipped with batons, handcuffs, tear gas launchers and more recently tazers. There are also plans to allow them to carry handguns but not the more powerful firearms that the Policja carry. In the event of a major incident they must request the aid of an officer of the Policja. The Straż Miejska are similar to Agents de Surveillance de la Voie Publique in France and the Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) in Police forces in England and Wales in Britain. Straż Miejska is not a Law enforcement agency.
- Biuro Ochrony Rządu - (English: Government Protection Bureau) - A protective security unit tasked with the protection of the Polish president, Polish premier minister, ministers of state, and other 'at-risk' persons within the government. BOR is not a Law enforcement agency.
- Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (CBA) - Law enforcement agency designed to fight against corruption
- Straż Graniczna - (English: Border Guard) - Border guard, SG is a Law enforcement agency.
- Prokuratura - Polish public prosecutor office (chief section of the Prokuratura is Prokuratura Generalna) is a Law enforcement agency.
- Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego - English: (Internal Security Agency) is a Law enforcement agency.
- Straż Ochrony Kolei - (English: Railway Protection Guard) - Typically armed security unit operating on trains, within the Polish State Railways and at train stations. SOK is not a Law enforcement agency.
- Straż Przemysłowa - (English: Industrial Guard) - Typically unarmed security unit operating in and around a number of state-owned companies. Disbanded in mid-1990s.
- Straż Ochrony Lotniska - (English: Airport Protection Guard) - Typically unarmed security unit operating in addition to Border Guard and National Police officers to ensure public order at airports. Existed in the 2003–2007 period.
- Służba Więzienna - (English: Prison service) - Corrections officers, SW is not a Law enforcement agency.
- Straż Uniwersytecka - (English: University Guard) - A type of security unit operating to ensure public order on some university campuses/at facilities, not a Law enforcement agency.
- Żandarmeria Wojskowa (English: Military Gendarmerie) - The military provost, military police of the Polish armed forces. ŻW is a Law enforcement agency.
- Oddział Wart Cywilnych - (English: Civilian watch detachment) - Armed civilian watchmen tasked with protecting military areas, not a Law enforcement agency.
Recent developments within Polish policing
Beginning in 2009 the State Police started to receive new, high-quality, blue uniforms. These uniforms adhere to new EU directives requiring that there be a relatively homogeneous 'police identity' across the union. In addition to this, the police have also, over the past few years, been taking receipt of an entirely new fleet of service vehicles, liveried in German-style blue reflective and silver colours.
Previous to this, the Policja rarely modified or in any way replaced (except for the black utility uniform) the communist-era uniforms used as standard across the force; in addition to this, squad cars and other vehicles were nearing the end of their service lives, with many older models, such as the FSO Polonez, having already become completely obsolete.
A large proportion of the Policja's modernisation program has been sped-up and improved with the help of funding attained from EU law and order development grants.
Today, the State Police most commonly use various models from Kia (Cee'd model - ca. 4000 in use) Škoda (mainly Octavia), Opel (mainly Opel Astra) and Volkswagen; the FSO Polonez (manufactured in Poland) is no longer in service with the Policja. Other law enforcement agencies operate more standardised fleets which usually contain only one or two vehicle models. This is usually because municipal police forces source all the cars of their small fleets from one firm so as to reduce cost, whilst more specialised services buy large fleets of vehicles specific to their requirements, an example of which would be the large use of all-terrain Land Rover Defenders by the Border Guard.
Beginning in 2009, the State Police's vehicular paint scheme is being modified to a silver body design with blue reflective strip, similar to modern German police cars. Traditionally, vehicles were painted a dark blue color with side doors painted in white, and with white stripes and the word "POLICJA" on both sides. Earlier versions (used at the beginning of 1990's) had a thinner stripe with the word "POLICJA" written under it. This has been done in order to minimise the cost to the tax payer, as once vehicles have reached the end of their service life, they can simply have the reflective strips removed and be sold on second-hand.
Gallery of Service Vehicles
- Crime in Poland
- Human rights in Poland
- Law in Poland
- Ministry of Interior and Administration of the Republic of Poland
- Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Poland
- Prisons in Poland
- Charles A. Ruud, Sergei A. Stepanov; Fontanka 16 — The Tsars' Secret Police; McGill-Queen's University Press (paperback, 2002)
- Kutta J., Policja w Polsce Odrodzonej. Wielkopolska i Pomorze 1918-1922, Bydgoszcz 1994.
- History of State Police 1919-1939 (Polish)
- History of the Polish Żandarmeria and Żandarmeria Wojskowa (Gendarmerie)
- New uniforms for Polish Police (Polish)
- New police vehicles