Minister Opstelten widens the scope for body search

In future Mayors may designate areas for a maximum period of 12 hours where the police may search for weapons on suspicion, if maintaining public order requires this. It must concern a sudden event, such as a violent fight at the exit of a dance club or café, or an imminent confrontation between football hooligans in the vicinity of a railway station. In such cases the (Assistant) Public Prosecutor will instruct the police immediately to take action.

This is evident from a legislative proposal of Minister of Security and Justice Opstelten that was sent today to various bodies for their opinion. The new power is meant for search actions of short duration. The Mayor does not need the prior consent of the municipal council; he will inform the council as soon as possible afterwards.

It concerns one of the measures to widen the scope for searches on suspicion, as announced in the coalition agreement. The measure will enable mayors, the Public Prosecution Service and the Police to take more rigorous action against aggression and nuisance, or to prevent disturbances. By extending the search powers Minister Opstelten wants to increase both the safety in the streets and the perceived safety of citizens.

In the current situation Mayors are authorized by their municipal council through a bye-law to designate security risk areas within which the police may search anyone for weapons, if instructed to do so by the Public Prosecutor. In future, an oral order will also suffice, if necessary from an Assistant Public Prosecutor. This would simplify the current, usually written procedure, so that search actions in a security risk area can be set up in a shorter period of time.

In addition, it will become possible for Mayors to designate search-on-suspicion areas under a municipal emergency order. Currently, this is not a ‘standard emergency power’ of Mayors.

For the duration of the emergency order the (Assistant) Public Prosecutor may grant permission for one or more search actions. This new power can be used in the event of serious riots, such as large-scale riots on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

The new measure also allows the police at all times to search the clothes, including bags and rucksacks, of persons taken to the police station. At the moment this is only possible if the life or safety of the arrested person or the officer involved is at risk. The legislative proposal does not introduce a mandatory search. The police officer will always assess whether a search is necessary, depending on the situation and the arrested person. The measure will support police officers in their daily duties.

The procedure for taking arrested people into police custody will also change. At the moment it is only allowed to search the clothes and only in very special cases the body. But the police regularly finds drugs, matches or lighters in the cell, which were hidden under the armpits or in the mouth, for example.

To be able to guarantee more safety in a police cell complex the police will have the same powers as the staff in penal institutions. Depending on the circumstances, it will not only be possible to search the clothes or the body of arrested persons before their detention, but also during the detention and afterwards. In very special cases a physician may also search inside the body, for instance in the case of a serious threat to the arrested person’s health.

As a final measure Minister Opstelten also wants to extend the powers of officers to impose fines on the streets if they find weapons. At the moment they do not have this power if they find knuckle-dusters, coshes or pepper spray, for instance. In such cases officers must first take the suspect to the police station to draw up a report. The measure prevents a temporary decrease of police staff on the streets.