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          • Year: 2019
          • Welcome, Militia

          • There is a real danger that communal militia will become the means of party recruitment and protection of government, wrote BCSP researcher Sasa Djordjevic.

        • It's been almost ten years since the communal police was promoted to a city service that will change Serbia for the better by solving communal problems and relieving "regular" police from jobs such as noise from an apartment building or closing down bars and cafes after hours. Although it was formed in 21 of Serbia's 29 cities, the public knows almost nothing about its real contribution to the communal order, while at the same time there were a series of incidents. Over 17,000 citizens filed an online petition to shut down communal police.

           

          It is known that in the period from 2013 to 2015, nearly 650 communal police officers in Serbia worked, who received more than 77,000 complaints from citizens because of communal problems, issued over 230,000 misdemeanour warrants and filed nearly 40,000 claims with a misdemeanour judge. During the same period, communal police officers applied force 113 times, while citizens filed complaints against 158 ​​communal police officers. Thirty-seven disciplinary proceedings were initiated because of breach of official duty. Four communal police officers were suspended, three of them from Nis.

           

          All these numbers do not indicate the extent to which the communal police have improved the communal order in the country, unburdened police officers and acted responsibly. The reason is simple. An estimate of the actual contribution of the communal police to the communal order in Serbia has never been made, while the Ministry of Interior has never responded to the questions on the lawfulness of the use of force by communal police officers. Authorities knew this well in 2017 when they gave up spending 2.5 million dinars to improve the reputation of communal police officers, and instead decided to analyse the work of this local government service.

           

          However, it is not known that the analysis was done and presented, at least to the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government. But that did not prevent representatives of the Belgrade city government from initiating the adoption of the Law on Communal Militia, which was voted in by MPs in July this year following a public debate that did not provide a sufficient level of transparency and participation. In addition, the adoption of the legal framework on communal militia is not planned by any valid strategic document. Even the Action Plan for the Development Strategy of Belgrade until 2021 does not envisage communal police being the bearer of any activity, and representatives of the city government have sought the employment of 1,000 new communal police officers.

           

          A modest public hearing was held on the Draft Law on Communal Militia from February 15 to March 6, 2019 at the proposal of the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government. The debate on legal solutions was not held during the stage of drafting the law, prior to the drafting, but the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government announced a public debate with the final text of the draft law. The draft law was only presented in Belgrade at a roundtable on February 28, which is not enough given the possibility of forming a communal militia not only in cities but also in municipalities with 150 under the applicable Law on Territorial Organization.

           

          Thus, Serbia has become the only country in Europe to use the word “militia” for local government, which means a national army or armed people, as opposed to a regular or standing army. It is most commonly used for military and paramilitary groups of mostly armed people. In the former Yugoslavia, militia was an armed part of public security, that is, one of the interior services. The new name had to be meaningful given that the Law on Police had already reserved the word "police" only for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, and lawmakers opted for the name "militia" because of the tradition that citizens in Serbia have toward police officers. But that's not the biggest problem.

           

          There is a real danger that the communal militia will become the means of party recruitment and protection of the ruling elite. The maximum number of members was increased and more people were hired, which was the intention of the Belgrade authorities before the law was passed. Under the new law, communal militia in a given city or municipality cannot have less than three communal militia members. Legislators opted for the lower minimum when hiring new staff, thus lifting the limit on the maximum number of members applicable under the old Law on Communal Police - there could be no more than one communal police officer for every 5,000 residents.

           

          The new solution is not good because it does not contribute to the responsible management of public funds and the establishment of a cost-effective organizational structure with an optimal number of employees. Also, there is no public the competition for the communal militia director; the director is appointed by the municipality president or mayor. All this is happening while one of the founders of the ruling party and the current director of the Security Intelligence Agency personally buys shoes and clothing for the entire communal police in Krusevac. In this way, the party influence on the service and the employees in general is strengthened, in an environment where the formation of internal control of the communal militia is not mandatory by law.

           

          Essentially, the law allows all local power-holders to own their own militia who would be able to use force, physical force, handcuffs, a baton and pepper spray. In addition, the communal militia officer is given the right to work covertly without a uniform, stop and inspect the vehicle and invite people for an informational interview. The communal militioner does not conduct criminal investigations, but can work without an official uniform if ordered by the chief. Covert and clandestine work is neither justified nor adequate in describing the work of the communal police.

           

          The communal militia is able to invite citizens to an informative interview at their offices. The citizen must respond to the request of the communal militia or be fined from 10,000 to 50,000 dinars. Even the "regular" police have no such right. According to the Law on Police, a citizen is not obliged to give away the requested information unless they are committing a criminal offense, to which the police officer is obliged to warn him / her. There is a real danger, given the actions of the communal police in the past, that by bringing in informational talks, abducting information material, personal property and other forms of denial of fundamental rights, they will "lose" obedience to the political regime.

           

          Instead of abolishing the possibility of using force, lawmakers expanded the range of coercive means a communal police officer could use by adding pepper spray. The communal police do not carry out police work and are not responsible for public safety. All communal police jobs should be handled through communication and mediation, not force. Not only has the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government not proved in the past that coercive means are needed by the communal police to maintain communal order, but in the training of communal police officers so far, it has provided more hours in defense skills (70) than in communication skills (45). Thus, the primacy was given instead of talking and resolving problems peacefully.

           

          And what to do now. Deputies should urgently change the name of a communal militia to a communal police department. The Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government should publish all annual reports on the work of communal police. The Ministry of the Interior's internal control sector should examine the lawfulness of the use of coercive means by communal police officers and present the results publicly to the National Assembly. The government urgently needs to examine the work of the communal police so far by setting up an independent, independent and impartial commission, composed of a representative of the Protector of Citizens and a human rights organization. Finally, there is a need to open a whole new public debate on the future of communal police, which will be fully transparent, participatory and inclusive.

           

          The text was originally published in the NIN weekly on July 18, 2019.

        • Tags: communal police, communal militia, Sasa Djordjevic
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