Increase in targeting of Police

25.11.2021 13.02 | Published in English on 25.11.2021 at 13.09
News item

A growing share of the Police staff has been targeted due to their work. Targeting may have a negative impact on wellbeing, sense of security and even on the private life of the victims. What the National Police Board could do is to promote the criminalization of targeting and to provide the victims with support.

These wishes are part of the outcome from a survey which the Police Board had made in October. The aim of the questionnaire made internally was to chart the staff’s experience of and attitudes to targeting during the past three years. A corresponding questionnaire was also made in 2019. 

The Police Board finds that the results give cause to worry.

- Targeting of the Police is a serious and growing problem, and we should intervene with all means available to us. The staff is the core resource of the Police, and we must be able to take care of their coping, Deputy National Police Commander of the Police Board says.

More frequent experience of being targeted 

Among the respondents of the questionnaire, 93 percent found that the Police targeting is a problem while 36 percent reported that they had personally been an object of targeting during the past three years. Being targeted is a phenomenon that has become somewhat more frequent among the Police. In contrast, 89 percent of the respondents of the 2019 questionnaire found that targeting was a problem and 31 percent had experienced it personally.

The total number of the respondents to this survey, or 842 persons, is a little over eight percent of the entire Police staff. Among them, 67 percent work main in crime prevention or alarm and control operations.

Defamation, slandering and threats 

In the questionnaire, targeting was defined as operations whereby an individual alone, or by mobilising others, launches or encourages organised harassment of one target. This may take place directly or indirectly. The means of targeting or shaming include slander, spreading of private information (doxing) or threats.

Targeting can also be directed at a person through their close ones. The objective of targeting is to influence people or societal structures and institutions, especially the public trust in them.

According to Assistant Police Commissioner Mikko Eränen of the Police Board, the outcome of the questionnaire suggest that the most common forms of Police staff targeting include defamation and slandering as well as direct or indirect threatening. 

- Other forms, almost as common forms, include collecting and spreading of private information (doxing), extensive and intrusive email campaigns as well as repeated unfounded complaints or Police reports, he adds. 

Most often the party resorting to targeting is themselves an object of Police operations (74 percent of all cases). 

Impacts on private life 

One fifth of the respondents have also come across targeting of their families or close ones during the past three years, for reasons related to the officer’s official or work-related duties.

Those targeted reported that the most important consequences are seen in personal wellbeing and coping. In many cases, targeting has led to increases or plans of intensifying the security measures of the respondent or their close ones. Those targeted reported that the third most important consequences are seen at the level of personal wellbeing and coping of their close ones. 

All respondents were asked about the consequences of targeting as a phenomenon. Most common phenomenon-level consequences were changes in social media behaviour as well as the measures taken or planned to improve the personal safety or that of their close ones.

According to Mikko Eränen, it is a great concerns that as many as 18 percent of those personally targeted have considered changing their profession. The corresponding share among all respondents was 13 percent. The results of the 2019 questionnaire were almost the same in this respect.

Targeting has still a minor impact on operations.

- Among the victims of targeting, six percent said the phenomenon had impacted their decision-making or operations in performing their tasks. Only some 0.5 percent of all respondents reported that they had given up an official task or, vice versa, taken up a new task to avoid targeting. However, eight percent of the respondents said they had avoided or tried to avoid tasks with a risk of being targeted, Mikko Eränen says.

Only minor share ends in pretrial investigation

Only about 15 percent of all cases of targeted have progressed to pretrial investigation. 

Those who have been targeted give several reasons for not pursuing the case in the criminal process. The most common reasons are: targeting was not felt to be significant, the case should have been pursued on  individual terms instead of the organisation doing so, the lengthiness and heaviness of the process, and the fear of increased targeting. 

Often, the crime report is not filed as that would give a further personal character to the case which could increase the potential of escalation of targeting. Moreover, the processes take a long time. 

- Other people choose to keep quiet which gives the impression that targeting is OK. This is a problem and, above all, the consequence is that criminal liability materialises very randomly. Therefore, there is practically no case law now, nor in the future. To control this phenomenon, the rest of the existing applicable complainant offences should also become prosecutable by the public prosecutors. 

Training to staff and stakeholder groups

According to Mikko Eränen, the Police Board takes this phenomenon very seriously and has, during the past few years, taken many measures to react.

-  To manage the problem and to support the wellbeing of the staff is an employer responsibility. Targeting is also an attack against the organisation; it is only channelled via the individual employee, Mikko Eränen underlines.

In addition to drafting the internal Police instructions related to targeting and the respective process, tools have been developed and staff and stakeholders have been trained on this topic. As a consequence of the proposal by the Police Board, the Decree by the Ministry of the Interior concerning the name tag of the Police uniform was amended. Instead of the uniform name tag, another specifying identifier is now also allowed. 

Moreover, the Police Board has promoted an extensive legislative amendment related to the rights of prosecution in complainant crimes, also applicable to targeting, to the separate criminalisation of targeting and the overall review of the regulations covering the compensation of legal and process fees of officials. This proposal has been made in collaboration with the National Prosecution Authority and the Chief Judges of District Courts. 

According to Mikko Eränen, the proposal made in 2019 did, indeed, lead to an amendment of the Penal Code whereby unlawful threat is now a prosecutable crime in situations where the offence is committed against a person due to their official capacity and the perpetrator is not employed by the same employer. 

-  This was a crucial step in the right direction, but only a point-like correction. Based on the internal survey made at the Police, 67 percent of the respondents wished that targeting would be criminalised separately, Mikko Eränen concludes.

The Police Board is currently preparing instructions related to the legal support in cases of targeting, with the purpose of improving the legal protection of those being targeted. 

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