How to improve police responses to people with disability

The way police respond to incidents or situations involving people with a disability, whether as victims, offenders or witnesses, is a sensitive and problematic issue worldwide. In October 2021, the Australian Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability published a research report on the subject, prepared by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sidney.

The research aims, among other things, to build an evidence base of these responses in Australia, highlight the resulting situations of risk that derive from them and identify potential improvements in first responses to emergencies involving people with disability.

In addition to a review of the academic literature (both Australian and international), the research project collected data on police policies and practices, analysed and studied specific cases to learn about the experiences of people with disability and identify the key issues, challenges and opportunities in police responses, and consulted disability advocates and police officers to examine the experiences and views of both parties.

In regard to existing academic knowledge, it’s important to note that most of the research focused on experiences in which people with a cognitive disability or complex social disadvantage were criminalised. Furthermore, most of the literature demonstrates that police responses to people with disability are frequently deeply inadequate. One of the key shortcomings highlighted is the capacity to reliably record data about people with disability in Australian police databases.

The police experiences were grouped into nine areas for analysis:

  • the existence of an action plan or similar for people with a disability;
  • data collection on situations involving people with a disability;
  • the existence of interlocutors or liaison persons;
  • advisory mechanisms;
  • corporate leadership;
  • accessible information;
  • training;
  • procedures, and
  • other experiences.

The results highlight significant differences in how the eight police jurisdictions manage each of these areas, as only one (Victoria) had experience in all nine, while another (the Northern Territory) had none at all.

The interviews with disability advocates revealed a remarkable consistency with the findings of the academic literature. In addition to factors related to people’s disabilities, they also drew attention to the influence of other issues, such as the socio-economic and cultural factors of poverty, disadvantage, discrimination, racism and sexism. Although the interviews highlighted many examples of poor or harmful practices, they also gave examples of good practice.

The main conclusion of the study, as previously mentioned, is that “police responses to people with disability are, on the whole, inadequate, frequently damaging to the well-being of people with disability and can significantly negatively impact on their rights to justice”. Two co-occurring factors emerged as fundamental to the causation of, and remedies to, these inadequacies. Firstly, the increase in the number of cases in which police are called on to respond to social problems, even if they may not be the appropriate responders. Secondly, the reduction in funding for the appropriate social services needed to provide that response. Lastly, the report proposes lines of improvement in two areas: policy issues (the collection and analysis of data on responses to people with a disability who have lived experience of criminalisation and ineffective policing responses, among others) and specific practices (such as the development of procedural guidance for frontline police, or mandatory requirements to use intermediaries when dealing with people with disability).

The report is available on the Commission’s website, which, in addition to the full version, provides an “easy-to-read” format with an illustrated summary to explain the ideas in the document.

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Crime Victimisation Survey of Catalonia: 10 observations

In November and December 2020 the fieldwork was carried out for the Crime Victimisation Survey of Catalonia (POSC) corresponding to the year in question. On the basis of a sample broken down into nine geographical areas (i.e., the nine police regions) and establishing representative quotas in terms of age and gender, a total of 7,900 interviews were conducted with Catalonians aged 16 or over.  A summary of the main indicators and conclusions is presented below.

  1. There is a slight increase in the percentage of persons who have suffered at least one incident involving a criminal offence (+1.8). This rate of victimisation falls (-3.6) if we remove deception, fraud and confidence tricks.
  2. With respect to previous years there is a slight reduction in the coefficient of multi-victimisation, i.e., the average number of incidents undergone by each victim (1.7 in 2017 compared with 1.5 in 2020).
  3. Barcelona is the police region with the highest rate of victimisation (34.1%), followed by the Camp de Tarragona (27.7%), the Metropolitan North region (27.5%) and Girona (26.9%). The police regions that have undergone the largest increases are the Camp de Tarragona (+4.2), Girona (+3.9), the Central Districts (+3.1) and the Metropolitan North region (+3). The police regions that have experienced the biggest fall in victimisation are the Terres de l’Ebre (-2.8) and Ponent (-2.6).
  4. The breakdown of criminal victimisation by category highlights a significant increase in deception, fraud and confidence tricks (+6.1). 13.8% of the persons participating in the survey had undergone at least one incident of deception, fraud or confidence trickery. Other categories have remained stable or have fallen, such as petty crime, property theft, mugging or vehicle theft, probably due to the effects of the periods of lockdown on the situations concerned.
  5. 32.5% of the incidents registered were cases of deception, fraud or confidence trickery, corresponding to 14.6 percentage points more than in 2017. Vehicle crime fell by 4 percentage points to a total of 25.1%.
  6. 66.3% of the incidents of deception, fraud and confidence trickery were committed online, 14.1% in face-to-face encounters and 12.9% by telephone.
  7. Victimisation was experienced equally by men and women (27.9% and 27.3% respectively); slightly more women experienced victimisation in younger age groups (those aged from 16 to 25 and from 26 to 40) and slightly more men in older groups (those aged from 41 to 64 and those over 65).
  8. The rate of reported crimes falls by 4.6 points. 26% of incidents considered as criminal offences were reported to the police or to the courts. Categories related to second homes and to main residences showed the highest rates of crime reporting (52.1% and 46% respectively), while deception, fraud and confidence trickery saw the lowest rate (16.8%).
  9. The evaluation of levels of security within municipalities attained an average level of 6.8 out of 10, representing a slight fall compared with 7.2 in 2017. Men and women registered very similar average levels. Nevertheless, when we asked the persons taking part in the survey whether they had changed their habits out of fear of falling victim to crime, there were about 32% of affirmative replies, of which 42.2% were women and 21.3% were men.
  10. The evaluation of the Catalan police forces (i.e., the Mossos d’Esquadra and the municipal police forces) returned to 2015 values after results in 2017 that were heavily conditioned by the terrorist attacks of 17th August and the events relating to the Catalan referendum of 1st October. The Mossos d’Esquadra and the municipal police forces were given a rating of 7.3 and 6.9 out of 10 respectively.

The results of the survey can be viewed at this link: Crime Victimisation Survey of Catalonia 2020.

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IOCTA 2021, the latest report on current cyber threats

According to Europol’s latest edition of the Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment, the accelerated digitalisation related to the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced the development of a number of cyber threats.

Criminals have been quick to abuse the current circumstances to increase profits, spreading their tentacles to various areas and exposing vulnerabilities connected to systems, hospitals or individuals.

While ransomware groups have taken advantage of widespread teleworking, scammers have abused COVID-19 fears and the fruitless search for cures online to defraud victims or gain access to their bank accounts.

The increase of online shopping, in general, has attracted more fraudsters. With children spending a lot more time online, especially during lockdowns, grooming and the dissemination of self-produced explicit material have increased significantly. Grey infrastructure, including services offering end-to-end encryption, VPNs and cryptocurrencies, continue to be abused for the facilitation and proliferation of a large range of criminal activities. This has resulted in significant challenges for the investigation of criminal activities and the protection of victims of crime.

In addition to expanding the efforts to tackle these threats from a law enforcement perspective, it is crucial to add another level of protection in terms of cybersecurity. The implementation of measures such as multi-factor authentication and vulnerability management is of the utmost importance for decreasing the possible exposure to cyber threats. Awareness raising and prevention are key components in reducing the effectiveness of cyberattacks and other cyber-enabled criminal activities.

These are the main current threats:

• Ransomware affiliate programmes enable a larger group of criminals to attack big corporations and public institutions by threatening them with multi-layered extortion methods such as DDoS attacks.

• Mobile malware evolves with criminals trying to circumvent additional security measures such as two-factor authentication.

Online shopping has led to a steep increase in online fraud.

• Explicit self-generated material is an increasing concern and is also distributed for profit.

• Criminals continue to abuse legitimate services such as VPNs, encrypted communication services and cryptocurrencies.

Ransomware groups have used the pandemic to their advantage to launch more sophisticated and targeted attacks. While mass distributed ransomware seems to be in decline, cybercrime groups and their affiliates opt for well-orchestrated manual attacks against large corporations and government institutions.

The pandemic has also facilitated the breakthrough of other threats, which were already making significant attempts to penetrate the cyberspace. Mobile malware and, specifically, banking Trojans have also been equipped with capabilities to intercept text messages on Android devices, compromising the two-factor authentication security protocols.

A key threat is the production of self-generated material, an alarming trend, which younger children are also exposed to. Lured by offenders using fake identities on gaming platforms and social media, more and more young children are falling into the trap of producing and sharing explicit material. Recording without the knowledge of the victims and the further dissemination of live-streamed sexual material is another alarming threat, referred to as ‘capping’. Peer-to-peer networks remain a key channel for the exchange of child abuse material, along with the Dark Web.

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Europol: The cocaine market is increasingly violent

A diversification of actors in the cocaine supply has led to an increase in violence, according to the latest report on cocaine by Europol-UNODC.

A greater degree of violence and a more diverse and competitive market are the main features of the cocaine trade in Europe today. The new report on this drug describes the new dynamics of the cocaine market, and concludes that it represents a clear threat to European and global security.

The report was published as part of CRIMJUST’s work program, which strengthens cooperation on criminal justice along drug trafficking routes within the framework of the European Union’s Global Illicit Flows Programme.

Fragmenting of the criminal landscape in countries of origin has offered new opportunities for European criminal networks to receive a direct supply of cocaine, thus eliminating intermediaries. This new competition in the market has led to an increase in the supply of cocaine and consequently to greater violence, a trend detected in Europol’s 2021 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment. For example, criminal networks in the Western Balkans have established direct contact with producers and have secured a prominent place in the wholesale supply of cocaine.

The report highlights the importance of intervention at the source, as this market is heavily driven by the supply chain. Strengthening cooperation and further increasing the exchange of information between police forces would improve the effectiveness of the investigations and shipment detection.

The report highlights the importance of money laundering investigations in order to track illegal profits and to confiscate illicit goods related to crime activities. These financial investigations are the main core of the fight against cocaine trafficking, ensuring that criminal activities do not pay off.

Julia Viedma, head of Department of the Operational and Analysis Centre at Europol, considers cocaine trafficking to be one of the key security concerns that the EU faces right now. Nearly 40% of the criminal groups active in Europe are involved in drug trafficking, and the cocaine trade generates several million euros in criminal profits. A better understanding of the challenges that the police faces will help fighting more effectively against the violent threat posed by cocaine trafficking networks to citizens. Chloé Carpentier, chief of the Drug Research Section at UNODC, highlighted that the current dynamic of diversification and proliferation of cocaine supply channels, criminal actors and modalities is likely to increase, if left uncontrolled.

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Central America, a homicide epidemic

In recent decades, the history of Central America has been shaped by violence to the point where it now has one of the highest rates of homicide and crime in the world. According to the latest report on homicides published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), America, with only 13% of the world’s population, recorded 42% of all victims in the world.

The World Health Organisation (OMS) says that when a country has a homicide rate of more than 10 per 10,000 inhabitants, it should be classed as a homicide epidemic. With the exception of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, all the Central American nations exceed this figure, particularly the three in the so-called Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. El Salvador has the worst rate at 62.1 per 100,000 in 2017 (although it has decreased to 30 in recent months), followed by Honduras with 41.7 per 100,000.

These countries have gone from political violence during the civil wars of the 1980s to post-war violence, which is now social and marked by the emergence of new, dangerous actors, such as gangs and organised crime groups. The criminals responsible are not motivated by ideology or politics but by individual or group catalysts, which are above all economic in the case of organised crime, and revolve around identity and social incentives for gangs. This new crime wave has spread like a disease throughout the region, making it one of the world’s most insecure areas. It is the root of multiple external and internal displacements – 71,500 in El Salvador between 2006 and 2016 and 174,000 in Honduras between 2004 and 2014 – that have occurred in the last decade as a result of inhabitants often being left with no choice other than to flee.

The violence indisputably affects all three Northern Triangle countries, although not all suffer from the same problems equally; there are nuances. Guatemala has a growing economy, and the country is less affected by the gang phenomenon. However, it has more organised crime, its state is weaker, there is more corruption among the political class, and the military and police are more infiltrated by crime. Honduras is severely affected by both gangs and organised crime, and there is criminal penetration in the police and the military.

El Salvador has fewer political problems, and there is little criminal penetration in security institutions. Still, it has the worst gang problem out of the three countries and faces more challenges in developing its economy.

Gangs existed in Central America before the civil wars, but the phenomenon as we know it today was born in Los Angeles (USA) in the 80s. The city was known as a gang mecca in those days, but became the preferred destination for many Northern Triangle families fleeing war and threats from paramilitary groups.

Given the situation in the Northern Triangle countries, it is not uncommon for their inhabitants to feel they must abandon them and seek refuge in other latitudes. According to a 2019 survey by the Central American University of El Salvador, 63.8% of Salvadorans would like to leave the country, and a 2019 study by the Jesuit Network in Honduras found the same applies to 42% of Hondurans.

Lastly, given that so many gang members would like to leave the gangs but can’t envisage any other possible future, support for reintegration projects could prove very useful.

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The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report

In 2020, the risk of a pandemic became a reality. According to various surveys conducted by governments and businesses, the damage inflicted over the last year is severe and significant in all spheres of society.

It is in this context that the 16th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has been published. The analysis centres on the risks and consequences of widening inequalities and societal fragmentation. In some cases, disparities in health outcomes, technology, or workforce opportunities are the direct result of the dynamics the pandemic created. In others, already-present societal divisions have widened, straining weak safety nets and economic structures beyond capacity.

Whether the gaps can be narrowed will depend on the actions taken in the wake of COVID-19 to rebuild with a view towards an inclusive and accessible future. Inaction on economic inequalities and societal divisiveness may further stall action on climate change, which remains an existential threat to humanity.

Growing societal fragmentation—manifested through persistent and emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, and youth disillusionment—can have severe consequences in an era of compounded economic, environmental, geopolitical and technological risks.

The immediate human and economic cost of COVID-19 is severe. It threatens to scale back years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality and to further weaken social cohesion and global cooperation. Interactions and abrupt shifts in the markets could lead to dire consequences and lost opportunities for large parts of the global population. Social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions will shape the effectiveness of our responses to the other key threats of the next decade: cyberattacks, weapons of mass destruction and, most notably, climate change.

The 2021 Global Risks Report shares the results of the latest Global Risks Perception Survey, followed by analysis of growing social, economic and industrial divisions, their interconnections, and their implications on our ability to resolve major global risks requiring societal cohesion and global cooperation.

The report concludes with proposals for enhancing resilience, drawing from the lessons of the pandemic as well as historical risk analysis.

Among the highest likelihood risks in the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage; as well as digital inequality and cybersecurity failure.

Among the highest impact risks in the next decade, the report highlights infectious diseases (China in the top spot), followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks; as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises and debt crises.

Finally, the report also points to potential employment and livelihood crises, widespread youth disillusionment, digital inequality, economic stagnation, human-made environmental damage, erosion of societal cohesion, and terrorist attacks.

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Costa Rica, personal safety in Central America

Costa Rica is geographically located in Central America. It is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the south by Panama and has the Caribbean to the east and the Pacific to the east. It covers 51,060 square kilometres. On 1 January 2019, its population was a little over 5 million.

The murder rate per 100,000 has been on a downward trend since 2017 and as 2019 ends it is at 11.2, the lowest level in the period, and below the average for Latin America, which is 20.1.

The homicide rate in 2018 was 11.7 per 100,000, almost half the figure for Latin America. In 2018 there were 586 homicides, 16 fewer than in 2017. That fall is the first in the last 6 years, with homicide trending up in Costa Rica since 2012.

In 2018, 91% of murder victims were men; despite that, the rate of homicides against women rose by 0.3 percentage points in comparison with 2017. The principal victims of homicide are men aged 18-30. Men in that age band made up 41% of victims.

The provinces of San José and Limón saw the highest number of homicides. One in every two homicides in the country was committed in those two provinces.

In 2018 there were 504 reported rapes and cases of sexual abuse. Those offences show a greater decrease relative to 2017, with a fall of 5%.

Approximately 9 out of 10 reports were made by women, and the principal victims were aged 15-17. The rate of rape in this group of women is 4 times higher than in other age groups.

Crimes against property are the most frequently reported in Costa Rica. The main property crime is theft, with a total of 18,489 reported offences in 2018, 31% of the total.

Most thefts were, however, committed against people. However, thefts from homes and vehicles are a larger proportion than muggings. Finally, robbery is principally committed against homes, followed by vehicles.

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Fighting Human Trafficking in the Digital Era

Modern communication technologies –namely the internet, social media and mobile applications –have significantly impacted the way in which organised crime groups involved in the international trafficking of human beings operate. The issue was covered by a recent October 2020 Europol report on the challenges of countering human trafficking in the digital age.

Technology has broadened criminals’ ability to traffic human beings for different types of exploitation, including sexual and labour exploitation, the removal of organs, illegal adoption of children and forced marriages.

For traffickers, the advantages of using technology include increased anonymity, the ability to take part in real-time yet encrypted communications, the possibility of reaching a broader audience (in terms of victims and clients), geographical mobility, and the ability to control victims from a distance. Today, technology is exploited by traffickers during every phase of sexual exploitation, from the recruitment and advertisement of victims, to blackmailing them with photos and videos and controlling their movements at all times. The financial management of the criminal business is also often done online.

According to the Europol report, importantly, modern technology means that human traffickers no longer need to be in close proximity to their victims in order to control them. Traditionally, control over victims involved violence and physical restriction of movement. Today, control can be exerted via various forms of blackmail (e.g. by threatening to share photos and videos of sex acts online) as well as via virtual forms of movement restriction and real-time monitoring (e.g. GPS and built-in video cameras in smartphones, and location-sharing applications).

The use of modern technology has also influenced the traditional structure and division of tasks within trafficking networks. Criminals have taken on central roles facilitated by the internet, particularly in trafficking networks involved in sexual exploitation.

The current economic context, primarily shaped by the COVID-19 crisis, is likely to have dangerous consequences for the issue of human trafficking. Criminals could have access to a wider pool of individuals in economic distress, and potentially increasingly prone to accept any kind of job opportunity. At the same time, an increased demand for cheap labour may work as a pull factor, provoking a potential rise in trafficking within the EU.

According to the Europol document, the next few years will be critical in terms of identifying and agreeing on the legal and technical frameworks that can be implemented to act effectively against trafficking in human beings in the digital age.

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El Salvador’s Citizens Identify Security as their Primary Concern

Until 2009, the population of El Salvador identified the country’s economic performance as their primary area of concern. After 2009 however, this changed, and since then, residents have viewed crime and insecurity as the most significant problems faced by the country. The data in this report was obtained from the Transparency Portal of El Salvador’s National Civil Police Force, the Public Opinion Institute of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (IUDOP/UCA) and the Latinobarómetro.

Despite occasional reductions in violent deaths since 2010, they remain significantly higher than those recorded in Latin America as a whole. In 2018, men accounted for the majority of violent deaths (88.4%),and 44.3% of the victims of the crime were people aged between 18 and 29 years old.

In general, between 2017 and 2018, the total number of crimes, excluding violent deaths, decreased by 6%. The crimes to have experienced the sharpest increases are vehicle robbery (+19.4%) and vehicle theft (+9.0%), followed by kidnapping (+6.7%). Homicides that take place in cars or deaths caused by traffic accidents also increased (+5.5%). Conversely, the theft and robbery of goods vehicles saw a decrease (-16.7%), as did robbery (-13.6%) and theft
(-12%).

With regard to victimisation, between 2001 and 2018, two out of ten Salvadorans were the victims of a crime, although in 2018 the rate lowered slightly to 16.5%, its lowest figure since 2005.

It should also be noted that in 2017, 78.1% of victims did not file a complaint with the relevant authorities. And this figure rose to 80.5% in 2018. This high level of unreported offences means that only two out of ten crimes ever get recorded by the National Civil Police (PNC) or the courts. What’s more, in 2018, only 35.4% of those surveyed said they had some confidence in the PNC.

On the other hand, the percentage of people who say they are afraid to walk around their neighbourhood alone decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018. The decrease was primarily reported by women, falling by 3.1% between 2017 and 2018. However, incidences of femicide increased by 184.5% in 2018 compared to 2013, the year when the crime was classified under the First Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women (LEIV).

With regard to classification, in 2015, 59.4% of violent female deaths were classified as femicides. In 2017, this figure was 75.9% and in 2018 81.9%. This increase could be linked to the improved capacity for properly documenting these violent acts.

On prisons, the data shows that overcrowding rose from 202% in 2010 to 378% in 2016. In 2018, El Salvador’s incarceration rate was 609 for every 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the highest in Latin America. In the same year, the average rate in Latin America was 376 for every 100,000 inhabitants, and the global figure was 145.

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Far-Right Extremism Taints German Security Services

A report by the German Federal Intelligence agency listed more than 1,400 instances in which soldiers, police officers and Intelligence officials were suspected of extremist actions.

The report is a first attempt to document the extent of far-right infiltration in the security services. It comes as the number of cases of extremists found in police forces and the military has multiplied.

Dozens of police officers have been suspended for joining far-right chat groups and sharing neo-Nazi propaganda. In June this year, the Defence minister disbanded a whole company of Germany’s Special Forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major.

Horst Seehofer, the German Interior minister, insisted that there was no structural problem, and said the vast majority of people in the security services were loyal to the German Constitution. He said that we are dealing with a few cases, and that the overwhelming majority of the employees at the security agencies (over 99 per cent) “are firmly rooted in the Constitution”.

The 98-page report, which covers a period beginning in January 2017, explains that the real number of extremists was almost certainly higher than that reported and warned that even a relatively small number of highly trained officers who are radicalised constituted a significant danger for the State and for society. According to the report, identifying extremists remains a high priority for the security service.

For years, German politicians and security chiefs rejected any suggestion that the security services had been infiltrated by the far right, acknowledging only individual cases. But the number of cases has continued to rise since data for the report was collected.

Last month, the head of the military counterintelligence agency, Christof Gramm, was dismissed because the agency on his watch had repeatedly failed in its mission to monitor and detect extremism in the armed forces.

Haldenwang, the head of the Federal Intelligence, whose agency was founded after World War II and is known as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has warned that far-right extremism and terrorism constitute the biggest risk for Germany’s democracy today.

Over the past 15 months, Germany has witnessed three deadly terrorist attacks by far-right extremists. A regional politician was shot on his front porch, a synagogue was attacked, and nine people of immigrant descent were shot.

In September this year, the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia suspended 29 police officers suspected of sharing images of Hitler and violent neo-Nazi propaganda in online chat groups. Last week, another group, this time Intelligence agents responsible for monitoring far-right extremists, was found to have shared xenophobic and anti-Islamic videos.

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