The COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the police

Dr Jonas Grutzpalk – Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Applied Sciences for Police and Public Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany – conducted research on how police work had been affected by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Grutzpalk teaches at the North Rhine-Westphalia Police, where the curriculum touches on many different topics ranging from ethics, sociology, intercultural skills to various branches of law (criminal, traffic, civil service) and the so-called “police subjects”, such as forensic sciences, tactics, traffic management, etc.

From this standpoint, the doctor raised several questions: How does coronavirus change these issues? How does COVID-19 affect police education? And in what way? Are the police controlling the pandemic right now learning important lessons that should be taught to future police generations? Could it be that police forces are learning something about pandemic surveillance that should be taught at police academies across Europe?

In a series of interviews with police officers, both in and out of the workplace, he asked what they thought the police, as an institution, had learned during the pandemic, and what kind of learning processes they would like to see as a result. Their responses touched on various topics, but particularly highlighted the growing problem of violent scepticism towards the measures taken to flatten the curve of new infections.

Communication. Some interviewees argued that communicating with people on the street has become more difficult because wearing masks makes it hard for them to express themselves through facial gestures. Similarly, deciphering the emotional state of the people the police deal with has also become more challenging.

Self-protection. Spitting on police officers has long been used as a weapon to express contempt. With the advent of COVID-19, this form of physical attack has taken on a new and more dangerous significance because it could also be intended to infect police officers with coronavirus intentionally. Police officers’ self-protection, which is an essential part of their training, covers issues ranging from avoiding fierce attacks to avoiding encounters that could lead to infection. However, by its very nature, this widens the distance between police and public, which is something the interviewees tried to avoid whenever possible. It remains to be seen how police officers can maintain a level of accessibility to the people they deal with while still protecting themselves from harm.

Online teaching. The main concerns expressed in this context relate to students’ emotional well-being, but also, given that some of the material is classified, the content of what is taught. Police education is attempting to address the issue of online education, and there have been many lessons learned along the way.

Working from home and administrative tasks. One of the interviewees raised the issue of whether the police should be able to work from home. One of the main issues here is, of course, data security, but there seems to be a cultural issue as well.

These few examples show how the current pandemic has highlighted some important lessons that need to be learned with regard to modern policing. And they are many more that could be mentioned. What’s interesting about these lessons is:

a) the extent to which they could be institutionalised

b) how they might affect police conduct in everyday life

c) whether they will ever be learned or simply ignored


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New report on drone usage by the US police

In December, the US Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) published a new report with its partners at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) entitled ‘Roadmap to Implementing an Effective Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Programme. Drones, as UAS are generally known, present one of the most exciting frontiers in law enforcement by giving departments an essential tool with which to gather vital situational data without placing law enforcement professionals in harm’s way. The report is a guide to launching a drone programme and is available on the COPS Office website.

The report on the use of drones by public safety agencies is a wake-up call about the threat of malicious drone attacks.

Last year, the COPS office, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the PERF convened a two-day conference for experts across the law enforcement community on drones, their use and implementation, and attendant policy and operational issues. Representatives from several agencies presented on several topics:

  • Regulations, community concerns, budgetary matters, and promising practices for setting up programmes for the use of drones in law enforcement
  • Recommendations for operating such a programme, including training and staffing
  • Counter-use matters, such as detection and disabling technology and dangerous illegal drone use by bad actors

This report summarises the information discussed at that conference and also presents lessons learned and promising practices gathered from interviews, policy reviews, and survey data.  The presentations and discussions from this event have informed all of our UAS work going forward.

This report is about two opposite but related issues: 

  • The use of drones by police agencies to protect public safety. 
  • The use of drones by malicious actors to commit various crimes such as acts of terrorism.  Thus, the story of drones is about two radically different sides of the same coin.

A number of federal and local law enforcement agencies have begun to explore counter-drone strategies at major events and mass gatherings such as the Super Bowl. But this work is still developing. Federal, state, and local lawmakers and government officials, including law enforcement officials, should accelerate their efforts to address these issues as soon as possible.

All law enforcement agencies, whether or not they wish to begin a programme for using drones for their own purposes, must consider a related but far more difficult challenge: how to anticipate, prevent, detect, and respond to the criminal use of drones, including use by terrorists.  For example, terrorists could use drones to drop a bomb or spray a poisonous gas over large crowds of people at a public event. Drones also can be extremely effective at reconnaissance for criminal purposes because they can fly past bollards, checkpoints, and other security mechanisms.


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New operation to crack down on money laundering

Law enforcement authorities from 26 countries and Europol took part in European Money Mule Action ‘EMMA 6’, a worldwide operation against money mule schemes. Between September and November 2020, EMMA 6 was carried out for the sixth consecutive year with the support of the European Banking Federation (EBF), FinTech FinCrime Exchange, INTERPOL and Western Union. As a result, 4 031 money mules were identified alongside 227 money mule recruiters, and 422 individuals were arrested worldwide.

During the span of the operation, 1 529 criminal investigations were initiated.  With the support of the private sector, including more than 500 banks and financial institutions, 4 942 fraudulent money mule transactions were identified, preventing a total loss estimated at € 33.5 million.

Money mules are individuals who, often unwittingly, have been recruited by criminal organisations as money laundering agents to hide the origin of ill-gotten money.  Unaware that they are engaging in criminal activities, and tricked by the promise of easy money, mules transfer stolen funds between accounts, often in different countries, on behalf of others.  In exchange, they receive a commission for their services.

While mules are recruited via numerous routes such as direct contact or through email, criminals are increasingly turning to social media to recruit new accomplices, through the advertisement of fake jobs offers, online pop-up ads and instant messaging applications.  Although some COVID-19 related cases have been reported, payment process compromise and romance scams continue to be the most recurrent schemes. The use of cryptocurrencies by money mules is also on the rise.  The use of cryptocurrencies by money mules is also on the rise.

Europol and EU law enforcement authorities together with international partners and financial institutions launched the #DontBeaMule campaign to raise awareness among the public on the risks of money mule schemes.

The campaign, promoted nationally by competent authorities, is designed to inform the public about how criminals operate, how they can protect themselves and what to do if they become involved.

What do you risk as a money mule?

• physical attacks or threats if you don’t continue to cooperate with the criminals

• prison sentence, fine or community service

• a criminal record that could seriously affect the rest of your life, such as never being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.

What can you do?

If you think you might be used as a mule, act now before it is too late: stop transferring money and notify your bank and your national police immediately.

Operation EMMA is part of an ongoing project conducted under the umbrella of the EMPACT Cybercrime Payment Fraud Operational Action Plan, designed to combat online and payment card fraud, led by the Netherlands. 

During this operation, Europol supported the coordination and preparation of operational meetings, delivered analysis and facilitated the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and private partners.  Furthermore, Europol coordinated the awareness campaign with the participating countries.


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Controversy surrounds France’s new security law

France’s new global security law, which has already been debated in the National Assembly, has provoked an outcry from organisations defending fundamental rights and freedoms, parties, trade unions and the media. They consider it a grave threat to the freedom of expression and information and demand, in particular, the withdrawal of the controversial Article 24.

After five hours of tense debate, with intense exchanges between some MPs and Interior Minister Gérald Damanin, the National Assembly approved the controversial article by 146 votes in favour, compared to 24 votes not in favour.

The provision, which is discretionary and subjective by nature, gives the police the right to detain anyone who records them merely on the grounds that they feel uncomfortable being recorded. According to its opponents, it impinges on press freedoms and weakens any attempt to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for excesses in their operations.

Article 24 of the bill promoted by the French Government would impose up to a year in prison and sanctions of up to €45,000 for spreading images of the face of a law enforcement officer with intent to “attack their physical or mental integrity”.

The controversial article responds to genuine concern among French law enforcement officers, who for years have been subjected to significant tensions in the fight against terrorism, social uprisings that have often led to hostility against police officials, including the municipal police, and hate campaigns on social media.

A second contentious article authorises law enforcement officers to carry their regulatory weapon in a public building, even when they are not on duty. This change seeks to address situations like the attack that took place in the Bataclan in November 2015, which saw 90 people killed, including three off-duty police officers who were unable to intervene.

There have been numerous protests against the passing of the law. These have been supported by some left-wing forces and unions, as well as far-left groups, with slogans such as: “Drop your guns, we’ll drop our phones”, “Orwell was right”, “A camera has never killed anyone” or “Global security, total impunity”.

Claire Hédon, France’s Defender of Rights, also intervened in the controversy, calling Article 24 a “violation of freedom of expression that is neither necessary, appropriate or proportionate, and which will, at the same time, act as an obstacle to monitoring law enforcement”.

Hédon believes the bill has three fundamental flaws. Firstly, there is no need for new laws because the current ones already protect the police and gendarmes; the second is the ambiguity of the wording, and the third is that the restrictive interpretation could lead journalists to self-censor. She added that any restriction on freedom of information requires rigorous contemplation and should not be passed for circumstantial reasons.


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Private cameras or police cameras?

THE US is home to an estimated 50 million closed-circuit TV cameras, roughly as many per capita as China. Many are owned by people or companies, not the government. But as reports, many police departments can gain access to the images through partnerships with private companies, and that troubles some civil rights activists.

Civil rights activists warn that once installed, the cameras are often used for other tasks, like monitoring protests, and can become a system of warrantless surveillance, particularly for communities of colour.

Newark, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Detroit each have some form of public-private camera system. Each is different. In Newark, for example, residents are encouraged to view CCTV footage themselves and report crimes to law enforcement.

In 2016, Detroit police observed a startling pattern in the city. Not only was crime rising but it was rising most quickly near petrol stations. One-fourth of all violent crimes in the city between 10 pm and 8 am occurred within 200 metres of a petrol station. The police contacted eight petrol stations, installing CCTV cameras that streamed real-time footage directly to them. Livestreaming allowed for faster response times and “virtual patrols”, where officers scanned camera footage during late-night hours.

Since that pilot, the Detroit Police Department has expanded the network, calling it Project Green Light. In four years, Project Green Light has grown to 700 cameras at 500 businesses throughout the city. But the expansion worries activists who say the police use it for more than patrolling petrol stations. Last year, Mayor Mike Duggan announced plans to add traffic cameras to the project, bringing the total to more than 1,000 cameras.

Police can analyse images captured by the cameras with facial-recognition software and other technologies, like vehicle-registration-reading software.

Since 2012, cryptocurrency mogul Chris Larsen has spent more than $4 million to help install more than 1,000 cameras in San Francisco’s neighbourhoods, including the busy Union Square business district. The San Francisco Police Department maintains a database of the cameras, their owners, and their locations, reaching out to request footage if they suspect a crime.

Unlike in Detroit, anyone can request the footage, including defence lawyers. Police, too, request footage instead of having instantaneous access. While Detroit businesses must pay installation fees on police-approved cameras, San Francisco businesses can use their own cameras and pay nothing.

But this approach, too, alarms some privacy advocates. In late May and early June, as many as 10,000 people attended some of the George Floyd protests throughout San Francisco. While the camera system was created to deter property violence, the police took a broader approach to prevent looting. Rather than respond to specific complaints of property damage, the police obtained real-time access to the entire system, capturing footage of everyone in the area.


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Classes on how to confront racism in the German police

German police are facing scrutiny thanks to a string of racist incidents. Berlin and other states are including anti-racism modules in basic training – but it’s not standard yet.

Ben Knight discusses the topic in an article published in a digital newspaper. The classes are taught by instructors from Diversity Works, an organisation that offers racism awareness training, which in recent months has been getting more calls from German police forces.

Just being asked a question about your appearance, the instructors explain, can unnerve people, because it instantly changes the dynamics of an interaction. Suddenly there is judgement in the air.

This is the deceptively obvious premise of the blue-eyes/brown-eyes exercise, a lesson developed in 1968 by US teacher Jane Elliott that has since become a consistent element of diversity training.

The educator divides the room into a brown-eyed group and a blue-eyed group and then assigns brown-eyed people special privileges. The result, after some difficult confrontations, is that the students hopefully feel what discrimination is like, and so end up confronting their own racism and understand how the mechanisms of privilege and exclusion affect their minds.

These workshops for police cadets last for a whole week. They cover a lot of ground, discussing everything from what the police is actually for, to ethnic profiling, to how to deal with other officers who make racist remarks.

It is not hard to get a measure of how important this is in Germany: The police’s struggles with racism and far-right sympathy in the ranks has become more and more public in recent months as unpleasant stories converged in the press.

A few weeks ago, the Berlin police were forced to admit mistakes in an investigation of a far-right crime in its Neukölln district, with victims complaining that the chief suspects (three known neo-Nazis) felt safe enough to publicly taunt officers keeping them under surveillance.

A week earlier, the police in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, were criticised for publishing a training brochure on Arabic organised crime in the region that allegedly included racist slurs.

The case that has caused the most national consternation was the discovery of five large far-right WhatsApp police chat groups in North Rhine-Westphalia, which shared pictures of Adolf Hitler.

According to some critics, this reflects a wider problem: the failure to link incidents of egregious racism with a deeper and broader problem in police culture.


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A Comprehensive Public Security System in Buenos Aires

361.- baixaSince 2017, the city of Buenos Aires has been operating its Comprehensive Public Security System. The exhaustive plan covers a range of initiatives, including training for the new City Police Force, improving social integration, citizen participation, etc.

The Comprehensive Public Security System coordinates more than 32,000 agents who operate in a unified way from their positions in the City Police, the fire service, emergency departments, the emergency medical care system (SAME), civil protection, etc. Of these 32,000 agents, 24,869 are officers of the City Police, which is the result of a merger between the Metropolitan Police Force and the Argentine Federal Police.

Furthermore, 1,000 civilians were recruited to cover administrative tasks in police stations, a move which allowed the same number of police officers to return to the streets. These police officers work under a new territorial deployment plan, with a system of fixed stops and police patrols based on software that integrates population density, the flow of people and the crime map.

The Comprehensive Public Security System uses innovative technologies across the board:

  • 25,000 mobile phones have been supplied to agents. At the same time, agents are prohibited from using private phones or other devices to avoid distractions.
  • The mobiles are equipped with GPS to geolocate and systematically record the routes travelled by emergency vehicles.
  • A “digital ring” controls 73 of the city’s entry and exit points with cameras that read the license plates of all vehicles entering and leaving the city’s perimeter.
  • Gender violence is addressed with panic buttons and “safe women” wristbands.
  • A comprehensive video surveillance system monitors all the city’s cameras. Currently, there are more than 10,000 cameras installed on the streets and 4,000 within the transport system. Of the cameras installed on the streets, 300 are equipped with facial recognition to identify fugitives from the justice system.
  • Calls are received through a centralised reception system with a dedicated 911 room and a single coordination and control centre.
  • Analytical methods are used to combat crime; the crime map, for example, is used to collect, process and analyse criminal behaviour in the city.
  • Citizens can report crimes through a single reporting system operated through videoconference booths located at all police stations.


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The London Police are using facial recognition in one of the city’s busiest shopping districts

341.- monitoring-camera-city-video-royalty-free-thumbnailJust across from the Microsoft store on London’s Regent Street, and just outside the entrance to the Oxford Circus tube station, the London Police have activated facial recognition technology that uses cameras on top of police vans.

The London Metropolitan Police has insisted the rollout of “live” facial recognition across the British capital aims to reduce serious crime.  But its critics decry its impact on privacy in one of the world’s busiest commercial districts.

The technology is relatively simple: cameras scan the faces in the crowd, and when one matches with one on their list of wanted criminal suspects, the police react instantaneously.

But there is concern over claims the technology may falsely identify people as criminals, especially those from ethnic minorities.

A North American NGO called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a report in which it tested technology from nearly 100 different companies, and found that in most cases empirical evidence showed that age, race and gender affected accuracy. It noted that some could misidentify people in certain groups up to 100 times more frequently than others.

Another human rights organisation, Liberty, also wanted to make its presence in the camera area known by handing out flyers asking passers-by to “resist facial recognition”. They believe the technology is most likely to misidentify women and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. For this reason, they are opposed to the police force’s mass-scanning of all faces in range and the consequent harvesting of personal biometric data without consent.

For their part, the Japanese company that provided the technology, NEC, says the system tries to find matches with a pre-collected gallery of the faces of known criminal suspects. As a result, the live facial recognition technology does not store the faces of people who do not appear on any database.

Furthermore, the faces of those who aren’t on watch lists are blurred out in the footage viewed by officers and are not stored on police computers. According to police sources, the cameras will only be used at specific locations for a limited time.

Despite this, the list of organisations coming out against these police measures continues to grow. The Big Brother Watch organisation believes that never before have London citizens been subjected to identity checks without suspicion, let alone on a mass scale. They argue the technology makes citizens less free and no safer.


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Police strike drives up murder rate in Brazil

340.- Policiais_ocupam_Complexo_do_AlemaoThe now fivefold increase in the numbers of killings in various towns and cities in the north of Brazil has coincided with a strike by police and firefighters in support of pay increases after a six-year pay freeze.

The Federal Government has sent more than 2500 troops as reinforcements and hundreds of police officers have been dismissed for taking part in demonstrations in support of improved financial terms.

Hundreds of masked police officers tightened security in the north-east of Brazil during Carnival festivities, which had to be cancelled. Officers are trying to stop their colleagues from patrolling the streets and are making it difficult for them to move around by booby-trapping the wheels of their vehicles to puncture the tyres.

The decrease in police numbers has been matched by an increase in the number of killings, especially in the state of Cearà. Although the average number of killings was already high with six violent deaths per day so far in 2020, the official figure has increased fivefold with 150 killings last week, according to the Secretariat for Public Security and Community Defence.

Tension on the streets has reached the point where a senator from the left-wing Democratic Labour Party opposed to the police protests, Cid Gomes, suffered gunshot wounds when he tried to use a digger to gain entry to a police station that had been occupied by striking police officers in the city of Sobral.

The response of the Federal Government under President Jair Bolsonaro has been to send 2,500 troops to Cearà to retake the streets. In addition, authorities have dismissed more than 200 officers and have arrested some 40 on charges of desertion.

The protests started in December 2019. Police and firefighters in the state of Cearà demonstrated in front of the Legislative Assembly in the state capital Fortalesa demanding higher wages. Their unhappiness stems from the fact that they have not had any wage increases over the last six years, missing out on being paid salaries nearly 27% higher.

The Secretariat for Public Security and Community Defence in Cearà has explained that there was an investment of 600 million reals – more than $136 million – in security in the period 2015-2018. But the money was not spent on what the police were demanding but on taking on 10,000 more police and training 15,000 soldiers.

At the beginning of February, the government of Cearà agreed to increase pay for police and firefighters in stages to raise their current 3,200 real pay to 4,500. Expressed in dollars, their pay would go up from $750 to $1,025. But the pay increase would be introduced gradually over the period to 2022.

Police and firefighters are not satisfied and have called street demonstrations to express their unhappiness. But since the Brazilian constitution bars the forces of law and order from striking, the protests have been declared illegal by the courts.

That decision has had the opposite effect to the one intended and the police and firefighters have gone on all-out strike. The strike has still not come to an end despite outbreaks of violence and political and judicial pressure.


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Global law enforcement operation to tackle marine pollution

336.- contaminacioA global law enforcement operation involving 61 countries has identified thousands of illicit activities behind marine pollution, as well as hundreds of environmental violations and severe cases of contamination worldwide.

Codenamed 30 Days at Sea 2.0, the operation, which took place towards the end of 2019, gathered more than 200 enforcement authorities worldwide for concerted action across all continents. The European leg of 30 Days at Sea 2.0 was coordinated in cooperation with Europol and Frontex.

As an illustration of the global extent of marine pollution crime, preliminary operational results exposed more than 3,000 offences detected during 17,000 inspections.

The offences – such as illegal discharges at sea, in rivers, or coastal areas – were found to have been committed primarily to avoid the cost of compliance with environmental legislation.

As part of Operation 30 Days at Sea 2.0, Interpol hosted an Operational Command Centre (OCC) in Singapore to focus on the illegal trade in plastic waste, a fundamental threat to marine environment security. The OCC brought key countries together to begin investigations into cases of illegal export or import of plastic waste.

Interpol played the role of coordinating effective global multi-agency action to help countries tackle this serious pollution crime.

Frontex helped monitor and patrol the Mediterranean with its various services, planes and ships taking part in joint maritime operations.

The operation also served to foster new and stronger working partnerships between national agencies in some countries, which in turn boosted operational results and sustainable cooperation mechanisms.

In Nigeria, Interpol’s Central Bureau in Abuja coordinated the action of different authorities through a task force created to conduct inspections into illegal oil refineries, found responsible for severe oil leakages polluting the country’s waterways.

Information exchanged between Malaysia and The Netherlands permitted authorities to identify the source country of seven containers of plastic waste being illegally shipped, from Belgium via Hong Kong, and to initiate their repatriation.

As part of the operation, some countries increased collective commitment to tackling plastic pollution crime through awareness campaigns in addition to actions on the ground.

Ecuador conducted a plastic waste collection campaign in the World Heritage site of the Galapagos Islands, resulting in the removal of more than 600 kg of refuse.

Indonesian authorities launched a public awareness campaign on the operation’s approach, backed up by messages from the police, to combat marine pollution.

For more information about the operations mentioned here, see the Twitter hashtags #PollutionCrime and #30DaysatSea.


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