Complaints of police violence have increased, but punishments are nowhere to be found

  • Shqip
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  • Complaints against police violence are increasing, but data shows that only a very small part of citizens’ complaints end up in the prosecutor’s office as a criminal file. The Police Oversight Agency itself admits that “illegal actions, mainly of public security structures in illegal escorts, in the exercise of violence against citizens during escorts, remain worrying”. Court sentences for violent officers are ridiculous, even when violence is admitted or proven.

    Autor: Eni Ferhati

    “As soon as they got me into the police van, H. approached again and hit my two friends and me. We were taken to the escort rooms and after half an hour H. came again and, after opening the door of the room with the key, the guard officer was not around, he grabbed me by the clothes and brought me to the bathroom, where he pushed me with force and kept hitting me”, – this is the confession of the 28-year-old A.K., who reported some police officers of the Shqiponjat Unit for physical violence during his escort to the police station.

    Images of the security cameras, during the violent session against the young man inside the police station

    Investigations documented that the young man was subject to violence inside the police station, in November 2021. 3 policemen of the special force, Shqiponjat in Durrës were suspended from duty. The prosecutor’s office charged them with “arbitrary actions”, after they used violence while escorting a citizen to the police station.

    Referring to the investigation file, which INA MEDIA has, the policemen have denied the violence, but the surveillance of the security cameras of the police station in Durrës has documented the movements of the accused policemen near the escort rooms.

    Shown by the camera, two police officers in red uniforms can be seen. One of the employees starts to hit the citizen wearing a white and gray T-shirt with his hands and then with his feet, above, in the shoulder area”, – the investigation file states.

    The confrontation of the complainant with the policemen of Shqiponjat resulted from a parking fine imposed on his friends, who were also accompanied to the police station.

    According to the police, friends of A.K. (complainant) tried to hit one of the employees on duty with a vehicle and he himself (complainant) tried to prevent them from performing their duty.

    Just like the A.K. case, dozens of citizens denounce the violence that is perpetrated against them by persons wearing police uniforms.

    The use of violence during escort or control is considered the “Achilles heel”, not only of the Police force. Numerous testimonies and denunciations implicate the special forces, the Shqiponja Group, the Police, the Road Police, the Municipal Police, and even the private police in the exercise of violence against citizens.

    “From 2018 to August 2022, we administered 841 complaints from citizens for the crime of “Committing arbitrary actions”, which includes cases of violence”, – says the Police Supervision Agency in a written response to INA MEDIA .

    Complaints over the years on police violence


    The state, aware of police violence

    Often put at the center of accusations of exceeding powers, the Police Oversight Agency admits that there is violence and illegality in a dozen escort processes.

    “The illegal actions, mainly of the public security structures in illegal associations, in the exercise of violence against citizens during the association and staying in the police premises, remain worrying”, – it is accepted in a report from 2021, which comments on the concerns raised by the denunciations of citizens.

    “From the administrative investigation of complaints, as one of the supervisory methods of the activity and performance of the structures, the object of the agency’s activity, it has resulted that the employees of the structures of public security, Traffic Police and Crime Investigation show a lack of ethics and professionalism”, – is further accepted in this document.

    This is not the first time that this important institution admits the problem in this delicate process. It is evidenced almost every year in the periodic reports of the Police Oversight Agency, the former internal affairs and complaints service.

    The police in democratic countries have several indicators that should guide their work. These indicators are: How the police behave when accompanying a person; how it behaves towards a contentious manifestation and how it behaves in the receiving process, when a victim denounces.

    Analyzing the observance of these indicators, Pëllumb Nako, former head of the police, considers that the Albanian police has many “sins”, especially when it comes to the implementation of escort protocols.

    “One of the points, where the police patrols abuse the most, are escorts to police stations for identity verification. We can have 100 escorts in a police station, but how many of them are really a problem for public order? How many of them really affected the prevention of order violations? No one currently knows how many people are accompanied in Albania every day”, – says the former head of the police, Pëllumb Nako.

    Pellumb Nako, former police chief

    Under the guise that the police represent the legitimate force of the state, according to him, police violence is often justified even by high officials.

    “It is enough to remember the violence of the police, used in the case of the demolition of the National Theater building and the interpretation of the minister of that time, who defended the idea that violence is part of the work of the police. In fact, it is strength in direct proportion to the threat. When it is excessive, it becomes illegal and is called violence”, – says the former holder of the blues, Pëllumb Nako.

    According to him, not only is the state aware of the violence used by the police, but according to him the police are being used to resolve social conflicts with violence.

    “During the governance of the last ten years, there have been many social clashes of different interest groups, with and without political support, and the conflict has finally been resolved with the language of violence and tear gas and not through social dialogue. So the government has preferred violence through the police”, – argues the former head of the police, Pëllumb Nako.

    Exceeding the powers of the police to the detriment of the citizen has been established over the years by the People’s Advocate and the Council of Europe. Throughout 2019, they have monitored several police stations in Tirana, Mat and Elbasan, as well as the center of Karreç.

    In the report published in 2020, they found the use of force more than is necessary in arrestings or conducting checks. In conclusion, the experts of the Council of Europe left a recommendation to the police authorities to “Redouble efforts to combat ill-treatment by the police”.

    However, it seems that police structures have a hard time improving. In June 2022, the Ombudsman sent a report to the Assembly on the implementation of these recommendations left by the Council of Europe.

    Although the General Directorate of Police lists a number of acts that have been forwarded to all police structures for the respect of human rights, the People’s Advocate believes that these measures are not sufficient, leaving the issue of the use of verbal and physical violence unresolved during the arrest process.

    “The recommendation has been partially implemented, consisting only of increasing the number of disciplinary measures or filing for criminal prosecution of police officers who have committed abusive actions in the use of force more than necessary… However, greater efforts should be made for combating this phenomenon”, – is stated in the report of the Ombudsman. (p. 63)

    Blendi Shahu, the student of the Academy of Arts, who was violated during the protests for the demolition of the national Theater, says that it is still not clear why he was arrested and beaten.

    “The first thought I had when they put the handcuffs on me was… I was hoping that someone who knew me would see me being arrested and ask to know what I had done. Why was I arrested? I had a premonition that an absurd trial would fall on me for the only action I was doing during the protest, sitting down”, – he recalls, not without some kind of negative feeling.

    He says that he was held at Police Station number 3 for about 5-6 hours, where they insisted that he had insulted and hit the policemen.

    Blendi Shahu during the arrest for the protest against the demolition of the National Theater

    “I answered that , if they had a fact, where I had offended or hit the police, they should not take me out of prison”, – confesses the young man, who says that he has not filed a report, apart from the public denunciation in the media.

    “No, I didn’t file a report. Where would I do it? With the police?”, – he asks in disbelief.

    The head of the police union sees the problem of the use of violence by police uniforms as connected with the lack of professional training and “strength” tests.

    “The cause is also the weak, professional training of the police staff, who obviously in certain situations show personality imbalance, committing violent actions against the citizen, in violation of the law”, – argues Sadetin Fishta, the head of the police union.

    Sadetin Fishta, head of the police union

    According to him, the expression of force in an unjustified way is also related to the level of stress in the ranks of the police. The police force, apart from the special forces, lacks psychological treatment, which would enable the detection of “problematic” individuals.

    “The incorrect treatment at work, with overloads, of employees at the implementation level and not compensating them in time with vacations or financially create stress and social uncertainty, which in some form can be translated into increasing aggressiveness in the task”, – says the head further. of the police union, Sadetin Fishta.


    Impunity of police violence

    Despite the fact that there are many complaints from citizens, a large part of the cases of violence by police officers remain unpunished or receive minimal punishments.

    Out of 845 denunciations received by the Police Protection Agency during these 5 years (2018-2022), 133 cases against 198 police officers were referred to the prosecutor’s office, which means that only about 16% of the denunciations materialize into criminal files, which are referred to the prosecutor.

    Erida Skëndaj, Executive Director of the Albanian Committee of Helsinki

    “The Code of Silence, the protection that colleagues provide each other, but also the tendency to soften the violations found in these structures does not help to prevent these behaviors, but has the opposite effect”, – says Erida Skëndaj,
    Executive Director of the Albanian Committee of Helsinki.

    In a response to Investigative Network Albania , the Ombudsman informs that from 2018 to August 2022, he has administered about 550 citizen complaints towards the State Police.

    “More complain about ill-treatment and arbitrary behavior. From the inspections carried out in the police structures, allegations of violence and physical and psychological abuse of citizens by police officers in some police stations have been found”, – the Commissioner of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, Ahmet Prençi, told INA Media.

    Ahmet Prençi, Commissioner of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, People’s Advocate

    Complaints to the Ombudsman have not been lacking either for illegal escorts or being kept in detained beyond the legal term.

    “In some cases, we have addressed recommendations to the institutions responsible for the improvement of the relevant conditions, for the training of the staff and their engagement in the recognition of legislation, international acts, standard procedures, which lead to the improvement of standards and respect for the rights of these persons” , – adds Ahmet Prençi, who in the past was also the General Director of the State Police.


    Lack of training

    The problems with accompanying citizens are widespread at all levels of the police. Although the police law is clear and provides a series of strict regulations that the blue uniforms must respect in any situation, in practice they are content with only a few basic courses.

    Lecturers from the Security Academy told INA that a policeman, before starting work, is trained in the basic training course for all the procedures he must undertake for escorts, based on the State Police Law and standard procedures. According to the same protocol, these skills must also be developed during the internship period, which a new inspector performs, before officially entering the field. He must stay in real field conditions for several weeks with the general patrol, the Traffic Police or the Crime Investigation.

    But, quite different from what the protocol stipulates, in practice the police officers faced the lack of professional training.

    “They are only satisfied with the basic course during recruitment and this is where their preparation in years ends”, – says the head of the police union, Sadetin Fishta.

    “There is a complete lack of professional training instructors in police stations , who plan training and testing programs for police officers. There are no gyms and ranges for weapons of the belt in the police station, where the officer can practice professionally”, he added.

    The abuse of the force of the police uniform is also confirmed by several court decisions, provided by Investigative Network Albania , who are accused of “carrying out arbitrary actions”.

    In one case, the inspection of the film footage proved the claims of a citizen, according to which two policemen of the general patrol of Commissariat no. 6, in Tirana they used physical violence. The policemen were sentenced to 50 hours of work in the public interest for the criminal offense of “Committing arbitrary actions”, in cooperation.

    “As part of an investigation as objective as possible, the film footage of the alleged violence has been reviewed, and in the dynamics of the investigation, it has been decided to carry out a signal film examination. Referring to act no. 1406, dated 20.06.2020, is concluded in physical violence, consecutive beatings by police officers, identified by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and NB”, – says the decision of the Court of Tirana.

    The investigation started for the traffic policeman F.K., proved that he used violence against a citizen, even though the latter (citizen) did not resist. As a result, the policeman was sentenced to 4 months in prison with a shortened trial, then converted to 60 hours of compulsory work in the public interest.

    “In order to carry out an objective and comprehensive investigation, the film footage was reviewed and transcribed, from which it appears that the citizen F.K. used violence, although citizen F.P., did not show resistance”, – is stated in the court document.

    According to the prosecutor’s report, in this event there was not only violence, but the traffic officer also used derogatory language towards the citizen.

    Citizen: What’s wrong…?!

    The police officer on the left in the video:
    Who did you run away from? You b… you uh…

    Citizen: Do not touch me!

    The police officer on the left side in the video: You don’t the b***s to do it!

    I’m not going to run away, I’m not going to run away, I’m a worker, I’m a manual worker, man.

    The former police chief, Nako, links the fact that some policemen commit illegal acts with the lack of the “cleansing” of this structure.

    “There are many problematic individuals within the police organization. It is enough to remember here the fact that why the initiative to subject all the police to the drug test was not continued until the end” – Pëllumb Nako says for INA .


    Violence, both the Municipal Police and the private police

    It seems that wearing a uniform makes the police (not just the state ones) feel superior to the citizens.

    The Tirana court has sentenced 3 municipal police officers to 3 months in prison each, after they went to a business premise for the collection and sale of scrap metal, putting pressure on the owner to close the activity, although they did not have any written order or decision.

    “They insisted that I close the business, which I refused. The defendants began to get angry and violent, pushing me outside the entry and exit gate. They hit me and then I tried to get them out and the gentlemen called the police and the police took me. The purpose of the visit was to close the business, for unclear reasons. I exercise a legal activity”, – the businessman E.H. testified in court against the municipal police

    It happens that you can even be violated by a security officer of private police companies, as they are otherwise known as SHPSF, just for queuing for actions at a bank counter.

    “We argued verbally and, at the moment I turned my back, he hit me on the back of the head with the rubber stick he had with him. I contacted the director of the branch, who explained to me that this person was problematic and had been asking to leave her institution for several days. The police came and in their presence the guard threatened me again and addressed me with the words “I will destroy you! I will kill you”, – citizen A.p. declared in court.


    Violence against minors, ridiculous punishment

    In the midst of the pandemic, footage of violence against a minor by a police officer near the Artificial Lake area made the rounds on social networks. INA MEDIA has secured the criminal file of this case in the Court of Tirana. The policeman received a ridiculous sentence of 100 hours of community service and even had his suspension lifted.

    “The footage has been reviewed by the Judicial Police officer, where it appears that the minor lying on the ground is saying insulting words towards the police officers. The police officers were handcuffing him and the defendant G.N. (polie officer) hit him with his palm, while the minor was lying on the ground. When the minor was taken to his feet, the defendant continued to hit him with his palms and fists”, – the court document states.

    Violence against minors, May 2020

    Compared to what the Criminal Code provides, this punishment seems negligible.

    “Performing actions or giving arbitrary orders by an employee, who performs a state function or a public service during the exercise of his duty, that affect the freedom of citizens, is punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to seven years”, – is stated in article 250 of the Criminal Code.

    “The impunity of abusive police behavior and cases of excess of force is one of the key factors that causes similar and repeated precedents” – says Erida Skëndaj, Executive Director of KSHH, for INA.

    The Covid 19 pandemic seems to have been a period that increased even more conflicts and clashes between the police and citizens. According to official reports, during 2020, when the restrictive measures were in force, 103 citizens complained about unfair fines.

    But while the signs of physical violence can be recovered, people who face police violence seem to find it difficult to put such traumatic episodes behind them.

    “Physically the consequences that I had have gone away, while psychologically it was very difficult to try to erase that day from my mind”, – concludes the Blendi Shahu, the student who was violated by the state police.

    Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.