Use of coercive measures by the Police

Coercive measures include physical strength used by police officers, handcuffs, police batons as well as firearms. In accordance with the law only some bodies are authorised to use coercive measures: Police, Internal Security Agency, Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, Intelligence Agency, Border Guard, customs officers as well as fiscal audit representatives. In its audit NIK focused exclusively on the Police organisational units. The Police is the largest uniformed and armed service in the Polish state which most frequently resorts to coercive measures. Besides, NIK underlines that in in accordance with the effective law the Supreme Audit Office of Poland does not investigate any individual cases of suspected crime in case relevant proceedings are already being conducted by prosecutor’s office or by court. Therefore, NIK’s findings may not be the basis to confirm or deny that an offence was committed in a given situation. NIK may not prejudge an individual’s responsibility in any case, either.

Police officers not trained enough

For many years the Police have struggled with a defective training system for police officers and managerial staff. The only obligatory training programme for police officers is the basic training programme. Each police officer is required to undergo this programme after being admitted to the Police. The basic training duration has changed many times in the past years. In 2005 it took over 1500 hours and during the pandemic in 2020 it was cut to 455 hours and then it was extended to 1123. It means that some active police officers may not be trained enough for the service.

The training system preparing police officers to perform tasks related to the use of coercive measures and firearms did not make sure all training needs could be met, specifically in terms of general police courses in intervention tactics and techniques, specialist courses for middle-level commanders in police prevention units or use of firearms in conditions close to real. In 2019, the Police satisfied only 45% of training needs in specialist courses covering the use of coercive measures and intervention tactics and techniques. During the pandemic only 10% of training needs in this area were met. It means that only every tenth police officer (out of the ones put in for training) took part in the training programme on the use of coercive measures.

In the audited period, only a few percent of the Police managerial staff completed a special course dedicated for commanders of police interventions and operations. In 2019-2021 (1st half), in five provincial headquarters of the Police, not a single commander of police operations took part in the said course.

NIK also points out that when creating training programmes related to police interventions the Police relied mainly on the knowledge and experience of their own staff. Actually, the Police did not use the opinions of external specialists, especially in medicine (except for experts’ opinion of 2015), psychiatry, psychology or citizens’ rights.

Equipment shortages and limited use of body-worn cameras

As a result of equipment shortages not all police officers from patrol and intervention units or from the traffic unit were equipped with body-worn cameras. In the course of this audit the Police started to purchase 3100 body-worn cameras with the IT system. As a target, 50% of police officers from the Police field branches are to be gradually provided with these cameras.

Regardless of the above, police officers not always used their body-worn cameras, which was against recommendations of the Commander-in-Chief of the Police. The analysis of selected extraordinary incidents (such as a person’s death or injury) shows that in situations being critical to explain a given case the cameras did not work or were not turned on. As a result, both the police officers and the victims were deprived of crucial evidence which could help explain the course of interventions in a quick and objective way.

The audit also revealed minor irregularities in terms of documenting the use of coercive measures. For instance, it happened that notes in police notebooks were illegible, did not contain essential information or the description of events varied from the recording made by the body-worn camera.

Tragic incidents during police interventions with the use of coercive measures

In 2020-2021 (1st half), the Police conducted over 14 million interventions all over Poland. NIK auditors analysed the course of police interventions using coercive measures based on the sample of 139 interventions made in the audited Police provincial departments.

In 127 cases NIK auditors did not find any irregularities. But in other 12 audited interventions police officers used coercive measures without reason or inadequately in some cases, leading to a breach of rights and freedoms of persons against whom the actions were taken. Undesirable effects of police interventions resulted among others from the police officers’ non-compliance with the principles of using coercive measures. On the other hand, the course of events during interventions was often difficult to predict, especially if persons, against whom the interventions were taken, were under the influence of psychoactive substances. 

With regard to information about sudden deaths of persons, against whom the Police took actions, three interventions in the Lower Silesia Provincial Department of the Police were taken under the microscope: on 30 July and 2 August 2021 in Wrocław and on 6 August 2021 in Lubin. During the first two interventions none of seven police officers used their body-worn cameras to record the entire course of events they took part in. The said three interventions ended in the death of the person against whom the actions were taken. Following those incidents disciplinary proceedings were started against 10 police officers who violated the service discipline. Three police officers were dismissed from the police service even before disciplinary proceedings were ended, one was punished with a reprimand and in case of the remaining six officers proceedings were pending until the end of the audit. As regards the Wrocław interventions, relevant prosecutor’s offices conducted investigations of involuntary manslaughter. As for the Lubin intervention, the prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation of abusing rights and not complying with obligations by police officers taking part in that intervention.

Protecting public order during gatherings or other mass events

The Police took a range of measures to ensure citizens’ safety during gatherings or other mass events all over the country. The biggest number of gatherings and manifestations took place in Warsaw. In 2019-2021 (1st half), the Warsaw Police Headquarters protected over 4 thousand public gatherings and social protests and over 600 mass events. In the course of those activities police officers used coercive measures in 378 cases, 77 police officers were injured. NIK audited the selected sample of 54 police operations or interventions – in over half of them the Police used coercive measures.

According to NIK measures applied by the Police were mostly proportional to circumstances. The Police used coercive measures when non-forceful measures appeared ineffective. In the analysed sample in five cases the use of coercive measures resulted in injury or death of the person against whom the measures were used. Two of those cases occurred in November 2020 during the Independence Day celebrations. First the Police tried to communicate with the crowd but when the attempts proved ineffective they resorted to physical strength, used batons and stun grenades. Finally, because of direct threat to life and health of police officers (10 of them were injured) the Police used the smoothbore weapon. A press-reporter was also injured as a result of that incident. Based on explanatory proceedings the Police stated that the use of coercive measures by police officers in that intervention was justified and compliant with the effective law and procedures. Proceedings in that matter are conducted by the relevant prosecutor’s office.

Complaints about Police activities

Over a thousand complaints were reported in the audited period in the category Inhuman or degrading treatment, including 1813 charges being part of the complaints were reviewed by the police units and 7 of them were considered justified. 727 charges were passed on to the prosecutor’s office. NIK underlined that the complaints were reviewed by superiors of the police officers who the complaints referred to. According to NIK this system of reviewing complaints may be non-objective and unreliable.

Ombudsman’s actions in view of Police violating citizens’ rights and freedoms

The Ombudsman numerously expressed his concerns about cases of police officers violating citizen rights and freedoms. An example of these are the developments reported in Lublin in 2017. According to court the conduct of police officers towards two men in a local sobering room qualified as tortures. With regard to the sentence of the Court in Lublin, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (a body reporting to the Ombudsman, in Polish abbreviated as KMPT) called on relevant authorities to amend the penal code as appropriate, also by adding the torture crime there.

The KMPT representatives were also concerned about the course of the police intervention of June 2021 in Poznań as w result of which a man was injured. The police officers did not try to use low-level force but immediately reached for firearms. It turned out later that the man suffered from schizophrenia. The KMPT representatives pointed to considerable advantage of the Police in terms of manpower and equipment. In line with the law firearms may be used only when coercive measures proved ineffective or when they could not be used because of circumstances.

KMPT also monitored the Police activities during protests which took place in Warsaw in January 2021. KMPT pointed out that transporting persons detained during social protests in Warsaw to police stations significantly remote from the protest site was an unreasonable repression. Besides, in those circumstances access of the detained persons to legal assistance was much more difficult, sometimes even impossible.

NIK indicated the alarmingly high percentage of detentions in the course of securing mass gatherings. According to courts even 30% of all detentions made by the Police in the Warsaw Police Department were unreasonable. In line with the code of penal proceedings a person may be detained only in extraordinary cases.

One of solutions to ensure human rights protection by the Police is a model of the Police plenipotentiaries for human rights protection. Also human rights protection leaders and teams were established in many Police units. Their activity focused mainly on implementation of educational projects, and also on proper incident response.

Police officers injured on duty

About 8.5 thousand offences against police officers were committed in the audited period. The offences were mainly related to violation of police officers’ bodily integrity and active assault on a police officer. In the same period only 133 injured police officers received legal assistance. In accordance with the law, legal protection is granted at police officer’s request. NIK stands in a position that the area of legal assistance needs some changes. It was found in the audit that the reason why so little legal assistance was granted could be problems with interpreting the 2020 Act about special solutions concerning the support of uniformed services reporting to the minister of internal affairs.

NIK’s recommendations

NIK made some system recommendations, e.g. to work out changes in the area of vocational training and professional development in the Police and make specialist courses assigned to individual positions obligatory.

Besides, NIK recommends making a review, in cooperation with external experts in the area of medicine and human rights, of the existing techniques using coercive measures to incapacitate individuals, in order to work out safe intervention methods, adequate to the threat. Besides, introduction of specific intervention techniques to be used by the Police should also by decided upon in consultation with external medicine and human rights experts. Using opinions of external experts when selecting adequate intervention techniques, also against individuals with consciousness disorders, would be a good practice and would reinforce citizens’ belief that the Police use coercive measures safely and adequately to circumstances.

The Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration and the Commander-in-Chief of the Police got familiar with the NIK audit results and declared taking a range of actions to eliminate irregularities and issues identified by NIK. They will cover first of all:

  • organisational changes of the Police training system,
  • numerous changes in requirements essential to hold specific positions in the Police,
  • implementation of a new course (specialist training programme) in coercive measures,
  • recommendations given by the Commander-in-Chief of the Police related to taking interventions by means of coercive measures in specific situations.

Moreover, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration declared conducting in 2022 an audit on verifying candidates’ skills for the Police service and assessing the process of police officers’ professional development in terms of using coercive measures.


Article informations

Date of creation:
23 August 2022 10:35
Date of publication:
23 August 2022 10:35
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
23 August 2022 10:35
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A police officer's hand holding a tonfa baton © Adobe Stock

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