More tools to enable special investigating officers to do their work safely and independently

Special investigating officers (SIOs) are becoming more and more important to our safety and quality of life in the Netherlands. They will only be able to do their work safely and independently if they are well trained, properly equipped and armed – if necessary. Today, Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius of Justice and Security submitted the long-term policy agenda for special investigating officers (meerjarige beleidsagenda boa’s) to the Lower House. The agenda states that SIOs will have access to the driving licence register (rijbewijzenregister) as of next year, which will make it easier for them to establish the identity of someone they have stopped on the street.

The Netherlands has approximately 23,000 SIOs, who work in six different domains and via hundreds of public and private employers. These SIOs include municipal enforcement officers who tackle minor punishable offences like disruptive behaviour of loitering youths, waste on the street and minor traffic offences. There are also green SIOs, like foresters who maintain order in rural areas, and public transport SIOs, who are conductors in trams, trains and buses. School attendance officers and social security investigators are SIOs too. This means there is a wide range of different SIOs. Although employers play an important role, the Minister of Justice and Security is responsible for the entire system of SIOs.

Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius:

‘SIOs are the eyes and ears of every community. They know the residents and are often the first to be approached or to approach others. In rural areas, the green SIOs ensure that nature is protected, while other SIOs are tasked with making sure that everyone is able to travel safely on public transport. Over the years, SIOs have been asked to take on more and more duties, which is why they also need certain additional tools to be able to do their jobs well and independently. In close cooperation with the police, of course.’

Access to systems

If an SIO wants to issue a fine – on the street – to someone who has committed a minor offence, they need to be able to establish the identity of the offender in question. Currently, if an offender does not have ID with them, the police have get involved to find out who the offender is. To ensure that SIOs are able to do this independently, they will be given access to the Driving Licence Register of the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (Dienst Wegverkeer, RDW). The expectation is that municipal enforcement officers and public green and public transport SIOs will gain the power to independently establish the identity of individuals sometime during 2023.

Arming SIOs

It is vital to guarantee the safety of SIOs while at work, which employers can do by providing them with training and ensuring they have equipment like handheld transceivers and protective vests. When necessary, SIOs may also be equipped with a weapon like a short baton. Right now, when allocating weapons, the SIO employer must demonstrate an increase in the number of violent incidents against SIOs, amongst other things. If the number of violent incidents stays the same or decreases, the weapon allocated could be withdrawn again, despite the continuing need for the weapon in question. This is a situation that needs to be avoided, which is why this criterion is now being updated in the SIO policy rules (beleidsregels boa). In time, handcuffs will also be added to the standard equipment issued to SIOs who have the power to use force.

A pilot involving the use of a short baton by municipal enforcement officers in 10 Dutch municipalities has been evaluated by the Research and Documentation Centre (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum, WODC). Many useful lessons have been learned from this pilot, on aspects including communication skills and the importance of training. A number of these lessons will be incorporated into the SIO policy rules. The short-baton pilot will end on 1 July 2022. Based on the updated SIO policy rules, all municipalities will have the option to submit applications for the allocation of short batons. Naturally, each application will need to meet the relevant conditions and criteria.

Neutrality of the uniform

SIOs represent the Dutch government in the work they do and are able to draw on the police powers conferred on them and use any weapons issued to them. This is a big responsibility and requires SIOs to present themselves in a neutral and professional way. This has prompted the development of a national lifestyle neutrality SIO guideline (landelijke richtlijn lifestyle-neutraliteit boa) that reflects the guideline applicable to police officers. The guideline states that, when in contact with the public, SIOs will refrain from any ‘visible expression of personal or religious beliefs, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, movement, association or other lifestyle that damages the authority, neutrality and safety of the special investigating officer’.