Dutch government makes new agreements for local law enforcement officers to carry weapons

Extraordinary investigation officers (boas) are officers who help the police to supervise local order and safety, such as environmental inspectors, traffic wardens or security officers at events. They check that people comply with the rules and do not commit violations, such as parking incorrectly or violating environmental regulations. They wear a badge and insignia, which make it clear they can issue fines, arrest suspects and perform identity checks.

There are approximately 23,700 boas working in the Netherlands in 1,100 different organizations: 3,900 of them are municipal enforcers, 2,450 environmental boas, 850 education officers, 4,800 public transport boas, 700 social investigators and 10,800 general investigators. They are allowed to arrest suspects and issue fines, but their exact powers vary according to their specialization. They have recently played an important role in maintaining social distancing rules, as introduced by the corona virus measures.

Usually, boas are not armed in any way, but there are now proposals to equip them with a baton. After debates between the Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, and boa representatives, new arrangements have been made about the use of weapons. The announcement comes after violent incidents between protestors who opposed the corona regulations, which led to protests from boas requesting better equipment to protect themselves during emergencies. Research is also being conducted into the use of taser and pepper spray.

New weapons for boas
Eric Lakenman, boa spokesperson, says the new propositions “open the way for resources that allow boas to defend themselves better”, De Volkskrant reports. The “necessity” criterion is no longer the guiding principle behind equipping boas with weapons; safety is now the main focus. “When boas face a violent situation, it always takes a few minutes for police to arrive. Then the boas must have the means to defend themselves. A civil servant must be equipped for his job,” says Lakenman. The boas are well trained to use weapons, since they receive the same training as police officers.

On the other hand, RTL Nieuws reports that experts think weapons should not be the main topic. “We are now putting boas in situations for which they are not intended,” said Jaap Timmer, police scientist at VU University Amsterdam. “This is the result of a ramshackle police law that makes boas do police duties.” According to Timmer, something needs to change. “The police law must change so that mayors have more say in the deployment of the police,” he says. The only groups in the Netherlands that use weapons are the army and the police. “Now we would have to add a third group to that. That is a landslide in the rule of law that has not occurred in 200 years, and would remain in place without an end date,” says Timmer.

However, boa Joshua (last name withheld) is happy and relieved with the changes. “I think it’s a good start to get a baton,” he told RTL Nieuws. Joshua remembers one time he was knocked to the ground by a suspect. “I had no means at all to defend myself, I was only wearing a stab proof vest.” Joshua says he felt powerless and unsafe. “I could have kept the suspect at bay with a baton.”

Nonetheless, the municipalities will still have to submit a request for the baton use to Minister Grapperhaus. Not all boas will get a baton, only those who may end up in dangerous situations. Whether the job actually requires a baton is determined by the mayor, police and the Public Prosecution Service.

Violent incidents against officers
The discussion surrounding batons and pepper spray for boas flared up after boas were abused last month during the Ascension holiday in IJmuiden, north of Haarlem. A boa was hurt by a large group of young people and had to go to the hospital.

Lakenman said: “In an unsafe situation, a boa must be able to defend himself. And a reality is emerging in which this is increasingly necessary.” During one of the protests in the past weeks, a boa officer said “our colleagues are doing their job and trying to do it as best as possible for all of us. And being attacked by a group of young people on the beach … I am horrified to see this.”

Written by Raphael Perachi Vieira