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"A big step forward in openness about police violence"

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A big step forward in openness about police violence

A blow with the baton, a shove at a riot, or having to draw a firearm. The Netherlands Police today published figures of the use of force by police officers in 2022. This is the first time the Netherlands Police have published such a report. Researcher Bas Mali: "This publication makes the police vulnerable towards society. It encourages the police to account for the use of force and continue to learn from it."

In order to protect and enforce, the police may use force if the situation so demands. The procedure that monitors the use of force by the police changed in 2019. The biggest change is the emphatic desire to learn from the use of force. Bas Mali conducted independent research on this new procedure for reporting violence. He also monitors the use of tasers. Mali: "It is commendable and brave for the Netherlands Police to publish this report. You do not see many other European countries doing this. As such, this is a positive step forward. It could also take on its own dynamic, with critical questions from society and a response from the police, thus creating a certain pressure to stay accountable and learn from the use of force."

Better and more reports on use of force 

The report shows that police have started using force more often since 2019. "This is mainly explained by the fact that the police are recording the use of force more, and are doing it better." However, Mali also notes areas for improvement. The previous study found that, in practice, the new procedure still focused more on accountability than learning: "The new procedure should encourage open and honest records showing that a police officer has used force. The process needs to be conducted properly in order to learn from it."

Reducing the numbers 

What could bring down rates of the use of force by the police? Mali sees de-escalating communication as an essential way of bringing a situation under control without, or at least with less, use of force. "De-escalating communication often helps reduce tension. This is not just about words, but also about gestures and behaviour. You also need to scale down the use of force. For example, do not use pepper spray or baton, but apply an arm hold. All this can easily be trained, using actors or practising on each other. How you act or conduct yourself as a Police Officer in a situation or how you are being brought in by the control room can make all the difference. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure," Mali concludes. 

Education on de-escalating communication 

The Netherlands Police Academy features training courses on de-escalating communication for new and trained officers. "In basic police training, we pay attention to proper communication with citizens in various ways," Aad Egberts, operational police negotiator and lecturer at the Netherlands Police Academy on de-escalating communication, explains. "When handing out fines, holding bad news talks, and during conflict management, for example. Students also have the opportunity to attend an additional workshop on de-escalating communication for people who are confused, otherwise unreasonable, or have suicidal thoughts. A specialised training course on 'De-escalating communication' for first responders is also given. This is a very well-attended optional training course that has received much interest from colleagues in the field."

Valuable information 

Egberts continued: "We instruct colleagues on the topic of de-escalating communication very intensively during this 4.5-day training course, providing practical examples and workshops. We also use well-trained actors who allow participants to 'experience' various case histories in real professional contexts. In this way, colleagues gain more confidence that they can also try to solve a situation in practice by talking. Enthusiastic colleagues, including very experienced ones, give us feedback, saying that they really wished they had had this training earlier. It is valuable information for them that is very useful to them in practice."

Social developments 

We conduct these training sessions only about 12 to 14 times a year. Egberts explains that 12 colleagues participate at a time. "So we are talking' about a hundred and fifty colleagues a year. The training has become increasingly familiar to first responders in the units. As a result, the waiting list is long. Much has changed in society in recent years, such as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the various demonstrations, and the sharp increase in reports of people exhibiting erratic behaviour. In my opinion, we should therefore do more on this important issue. De-escalating communication should increasingly be seen as an important skill for every Police Officer."

Broader consideration is now being given to how the police can equip more colleagues with this skill. 

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