Belgium imposes harsher punishments for violence against police
Following the killing of a police officer in the Brussels municipality of Schaerbeek earlier this month, Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne is extending the zero-tolerance policy for violence against police officers and implementing harsher punishments.
On Thursday, 10 November, two police officers from the Brussels-North zone were attacked by a man with a knife while on patrol on Rue d’Aerschot in Schaerbeek. One officer died of his injuries; the other was admitted to hospital.
"Those who target police officers because of their function are attacking society. Therefore, we must take strict action," Van Quickenborne said. "We must signal to police officers that more will be done to stop this."
"Unfortunately, zero tolerance does not mean that violent incidents against officers will no longer occur"
To this end, the Justice Ministry is extending the zero-tolerance policy, appointing reference magistrates and accelerating harsher sentences. "Unfortunately, zero tolerance does not mean that violent incidents against officers will no longer occur, but it does show that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the police and take strict action when they are targeted."
The Justice Ministry is keen to respond to police calls for more robust protection. For example, any act of violence that leads to an officer's inability to work will now fall under the zero-tolerance policy. Additionally, cases like these will now always be given judicial follow-up.
Additionally, each prosecutor's office will be appointed a reference magistrate to handle criminal offences against police officers. They will be the point of contact for the police and provide updates on the status of cases.
New Penal Code
Tougher and swifter punishments for aggressors towards the police (and other public servants) will be written into the new Penal Code.
As with the reformed sexual criminal law, Van Quickenborne wants to implement this aspect of the new Penal Code so that stricter punishments will apply sooner. In practice, this means that if a primary offence were punished by a sentence of between three and five years imprisonment (level 3), the same offence towards a police officer will carry a sentence of between five and ten years imprisonment (level 4).
These tougher punishments are also extended to acts of torture and inhumane treatment of police officers. This includes causing psychological distress by way of serious threats. Manslaughter of a member of the police force – not just officers on the street but also those at the reception desk or elsewhere – is considered an aggravated offence and is equated to murder.
The new penalties will also apply when someone in the police force is assaulted in their spare time because of their function as a police officer.
The Justice Ministry is working on a legal framework for bodycams for police officers – a significant step forward in the fight against all possible criminal offences committed against police officers.
This will provide more apparent and readily available evidence, allowing suspects to be convicted more frequently and swiftly.
© BELGA PHOTO Paul-Henry Verlooy