There was no discussion about auxiliary police in Serbia and the public was not informed that last year’s Law on police (art. 249) enables the ministry of interior (MoI) to form an auxiliary police which would be deployed in security risk situations when there are not enough regular police officers in the field. The Law also predicts the adoption of a bylaw regulating the service of the auxiliary police, which the government adopted before the New Year, and abolished just after Orthodox Christmas. This regulation has provoked resistance among citizens and the fear of the unknown. This is a logical response because the public was not informed in time what this new type of police does and what its purpose is.
The authorities in Serbia can form an auxiliary police in three ways. First, engagement of volunteers who are responsible for assisting the regular police in situations when they are needed. Second, the authorities can continue doing nothing after the auxiliary police has been formed, just as its predecessors did in the last ten years. Third, they can politically misuse the auxiliary police by engaging members of the ruling party during the election campaign. The first choice is the best, but it all depends on the wishes of the authorities. If they care about citizens, the government will review the existing legal framework, existing funds in the budget and see if it is financially possible to employ up to 4,500 additional auxiliary police officers. If they don’t care about citizens, the government will make a party police who have the power to carry weapons and arrest people in the 2017 election campaign.
The following text presents the role and purpose of the auxiliary police. It then analyzes the legal framework of the functioning of the auxiliary police in Serbia. Recommendations are listed at the end.
What is the auxiliary police
The auxiliary police is a part of the regular police. It is comprised of individuals who assist regular police officers in the execution of tasks for a limited time period. There is no generally accepted model of auxiliary police in the world, but its role depends on the complexity of the security situation, the needs of the local police, and finance. It is deployed in circumstances where the safety of citizens is at risk due to natural disasters, high-risk public events, and serious traffic accidents, or to help police in the tourist season, as well as to improve communication with citizens. There are solutions where auxiliary police officers have access to all the regular police powers, including firearms and arrest. Sometimes these powers are very limited. For their involvement, auxiliary police officers can be paid, or they can work as volunteers. They can wear a uniform like regular police officers, but without firearms and with a different police label. They provide a variety of services, from administrative work and relations with the local community, to traffic control.
There are five groups of auxiliary police officers or reservists: 1. ordinary citizens, volunteers who want to contribute to improving the security of their society based on their beliefs; 2. Regular policemen who lost their jobs due to rationalization or the merging of different units of law enforcement, or those who want to supplement their working hours and receive a higher salary; 3. Individuals who are thinking about changing jobs and want to try their luck in the police; 4. retired police officers who want to continue their work in the service, because they believe they can help; 5. people who arrive in the auxiliary police with various individual interests.
Auxiliary police officers have existed in Australia since 1892 and have full police powers. They are recruited locally to perform administrative duties, control traffic, and improve communication with the local community, in the context of the development of community policing. Bavarian auxiliary police is a relatively new service that has limited jurisdiction. Its members may, for example, verify the identity of a particular person, and ask them, if necessary, to leave the designated area. They usually patrol in certain neighborhoods and have no uniform, but wear light-reflective vests. In the German state of Hessen, auxiliary police officers help traffic police and are now working in refugee camps during the migrant crisis. In Poland, auxiliary police officers serve as mediators between fan groups at high-risk football matches.
In the US reservists respond to calls from citizens in the event of traffic accidents, medical emergencies, or suspicious activities. Like in Australia and Bavaria, they provide support in improving communication between police and citizens. If they have police powers, they can interview victims, witnesses, and criminal suspects, as well as write reports. They prepare transport of the suspect to detention, and patrol urban neighborhoods on foot or by bicycle. They also deal with traffic control. In 2011 they were hired to guard cars against theft after severe storms in Alabama. Young people (aged 18 to 21) who want to be police officers in their communities have the opportunity to be auxiliary police officers first. Thus, a couple of days ago, Mike Fiola, Sergeant of reservists in Shelton police, where 70 people are employed, urged citizens to get involved in police work. In the UK volunteers have helped the police since 1831. They perform similar tasks as in the US, with a variety of programs for all interested citizens.
In Croatia and Macedonia, the auxiliary police or reserve police force, deploys when the country is at war or if there is an immediate threat to the country, when natural disasters and major accidents at major public events occur, or during the tourist season. However, both countries have a solution which can be interpreted too broadly, because there is a possibility to recruit auxiliary police officers to perform tasks that require the prolonged involvement of ordinary policemen. It is interesting that Croatia adopted the regulation on reserve police overnight, just as Serbia did, and that it caused turmoil between the opposition and the authorities. The reserve police force in Macedonia was engaged in armed conflict in 2001.
The hiring of auxiliary police officers implies that they are already trained to carry out police work, or that they need training, which in practice requires significant financial resources. Taking into account the financial situation and austerity measures in Serbia, it is an aggravating factor. The main problem is the unclear explanation of the need for the introduction of these units – their appropriateness, bearing in mind that there is already a communal police in Serbia which receives new candidates.
Auxiliary police in Serbia
Before the New Year, the minister of interior announced that graduates of the Academy of criminalistics and police studies will be able to get involved in the MoI through the auxiliary police during this year. Later it was refuted. The budget for 2017 does not include funds to support the work of the auxiliary police. The possibility to create an auxiliary police force has existed since 2006 in Serbia, but it has not been used.
Auxiliary police in Serbia can be formed when the security situation requires the involvement of a large number of people due to the high security risks, natural disasters, securing the border, and in other cases when internal security is threatened. The performance framework is set too wide, especially because of the role of auxiliary police in securing the state border and vague formulations about what the situations that threaten the internal security of the country are. Auxiliary police is rarely used to protect the borders because this requires special training and effective control. Training the auxiliary police for border control is too expensive for Serbia, and the control itself is almost impossible due to defects in the internal control system of the regular police. Also, there is already a system which is currently used in a migrant crisis, where the army and police patrol along the border with Bulgaria and Macedonia. Auxiliary police are rarely used in these operations in the world. Auxiliary officers are currently deployed on the US-Mexican border.
Exceptionally, auxiliary police can be formed when there is a mutual interest of the MoI and local self-governments, which adds additional confusion, although the intention may be good. The common interest of the ministry and local self-government for the formation of auxiliary police is unclear. Also unclear is the role of auxiliary police in the system of protection and rescue, the area in which the police and local governments mostly cooperate, while it is clear that funds in case of emergencies are not provided.
The minister of interior has been given a great discretionary power in the formation and operation of auxiliary police. This in itself should not be a problem, but there is a history of political misuse of the police and lack of accountability for it in Serbia. For example, government representatives relativize the Savamala case in public, and over eight months the public can’t get an answer which high-ranking police officers ordered the police officers not to respond to calls from citizens on election night. Tensions in society are being raised by predicting coups. Information on ongoing investigations is revealed because of political interests. Officers reported that they were issued illegal orders to accompany the prime minister during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015. In these circumstances, and in the course of the election campaign, it is dangerous that those at the top of the state force apparatus have too much authority, especially the power to establish a new police force with full police powers.
At the proposal of the police director, the minister could decide on the use of auxiliary police force whose composition could be chosen in two ways. Auxiliary police can form on the basis of a public competition, by a commission appointed by the minister for four years from the ranks of the Police directorate and the human resources sector. In Croatia, a decision on the involvement of members of the reserve police force is issued by the Director of the police on the basis of proposals by managers who are below him in police hierarchy. The political leadership is involved in the decision on the organization, number, and composition of auxiliary police. Unemployed citizens older than 18 and younger than 50, with at least secondary education, can be auxiliary police officers. It is good that auxiliary police officers can not be persons who were criminally charged or sentenced, those who stopped working in the state apparatus due to a severe breach of official duties, and when it is determined that there are no security obstacles for their employment.
The minister may also choose auxiliary police officers without competition, and that’s not good. In Croatia, such a possibility does not exist, although the purpose of the auxiliary police is defined similarly to Serbia’s. It is certainly understandable that people who have police training can start working without competition in the auxiliary police. However, it is not clear why those who graduate from the Academy cannot be employed in the MoI while nearly six million euros from the budget has been allocated for the work of the Academy in the past two years. It seems a waste of taxpayer money. Some high-ranking police officers believe that an Academy graduate cannot immediately be a chief without a day in the field. This raises the question of the quality of education the Academy offers to its students. The biggest problem is the possibility that the Minister forms the auxiliary police without competition by employing “other persons who fulfill the conditions foreseen by this regulation”. This leaves ample room for misuse.
Persons who have passed the competition go to basic police training, which lasts for 52 weeks, 46 of which are carried out in the Basic police training centre, and 6 of which consist of practical training in police departments. The aim of the training is to prepare participants for the lawful and efficient performance of duties and tasks of the uniformed police officer. This means that there is no special training for auxiliary officers, which suggests that the purpose and role of auxiliary police in Serbia have not been clarified, that is, that auxiliary officers are trained to be regular police officers. This might make sense if the competition for enrollment in the basic police training had not been announced. They are currently seeking 420 participants. Auxiliary officers are entitled to use police powers, including coercive measures, and they are obliged to surrender firearms to their immediate superior immediately after the end of each engagement. They are given too much authority considering the unclear and incomplete job description.
What needs to be done
Firstly, the law on police needs to be changed. Article 249 must be abolished, which was already proposed to the members of parliament during a public hearing in early 2016. After that, it is necessary to start a dialogue in public on whether it is necessary to have another police force, in addition to regular and communal police, and answer the question of which security needs of the citizens the auxiliary police is going to satisfy. If it is decided that Serbia needs another police, it is necessary to specify its scope of work more clearly, to reduce the discretionary power of the minister, to adjust it to the local security context, to find its proper place in the security system of Serbia, and to provide adequate budgetary resources for its functioning. The whole process should be transparent because this is the only way for auxiliary police to be an accountable institution.
The author is a researcher of the Belgrade center for security policy (BCSP).
Translated by Andrijana Gavrilovic