This article is an integral part of the Coalition prEUgovor report on progress of Serbia in Chapters 23 and 24 for the period from November 2015 to April 2016.
As stipulated in the introduction of the Screening Report for Chapter 24, “establishing a professional, reliable and efficient police organisation is of paramount importance,” and this requires “a strong and well-integrated administrative capacity within the law enforcement agencies and other relevant bodies, which must attain the necessary standards.” This is why police reform is the key precondition for Serbia in regard to the implementation of reforms in the area of Justice, Freedom and Security (Chapter 24), and the proposed legislative changes to the police should be put under extensive scrutiny.
During March and April 2015 the MoI organised extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders on the new Draft Law on Police. Round tables on the new Draft Law on Police were organised in Belgrade and in several other cities at the local level, whereas a special consultative session was organised for civil society representatives.
The draft Law on Police will not resolve the key problems of police oversight and control. First, the biggest problem is the still present overt politicisation of the police. The biggest problem is the possibility of a Minister’s impact on policing at the operational level. Namely, in accordance with Article 16, the Minister gives guidelines and instructions to the police, taking into account the operational independence which is not specified by the draft Law on Police, until the public prosecutor is notified of a criminal offence and assumes direction of police action in pre-trial proceedings. This influence is also visible in the human resources management of the MoI. The draft Law on Police allows the Minister of Interior to appoint and dismiss: (1) the manager and his deputy of an internal organisational unit of the General Police Directorate, (2) the manager of the organisational unit which coordinates the work of police districts and police stations and (3) the head of a police district. Based on mentioned discretionary powers by the Minister of Interior, the de-politicisation of the police is disabled. Second, the draft Law on Police does not regulate appropriately the system of internal control and oversight of the police. It does not stipulate that the Internal Affairs Sector is an independent organisational unit within the MoI, which is a requirement for effective anticorruption policy in the police. Still, the Minister of Interior can prevent an investigation conducted by the Sector and assign another organisational unit of the police to lead the investigation (Article 226). The draft Law on Police does not in an adequate manner distinguish competences in the operations and coordination of the three controllers in the MoI, namely: the Internal Affairs Sector, Department for Control of Legitimacy of Work of Police Districts, and the Division for Control of Legitimacy of Work within the Gendarmerie. These provisions are unsatisfactory not only because the Minister has too much discretionary power, but also because the police internal control is fragmented, which all together affects the fight against police corruption and protection of human rights. Finally, new police anticorruption measures, such as integrity testing or control of declaration of assets, are not regulated precisely in the draft Law.
- More efforts need to be invested, particularly in relation to the new Draft Law on Police, in order to assure that the police have operational independence, effective internal control and, most importantly, to reduce the levels of politicisation of the police.
Limited progress has been made regarding the implementation of community policing in Serbia. The action plan to implement the Community Policing Strategy, adopted in early 2013, is two years late already. Currently, Local Safety and Security Councils in Serbia do not exist in all municipalities. The number of municipal safety councils has dropped by 7% relative to 2007. It is estimated that advisory bodies in charge of improving safety and/or crime prevention operate in 76 municipalities and towns across Serbia. The problem relates to the way of organising the work of municipal safety councils and ensuring the participation of all local stakeholders, i.e. creating partnerships. Decisions of the Council are not binding and its work depends on the willingness of the police and political representatives to take part in it. Moreover, the duties relating to the work in Local Safety Councils pose an additional burden to the police officers who are in charge of community policing at the municipal level.
- Local police units should, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, inform local municipalities of the state of play regarding local safety and, in cooperation with the local government, agree upon measures that are necessary to be implemented in order to increase the safety of citizens.
- Annual reports should be presented to members of municipal councils, who should in turn monitor the police work at the local level and suggest guidelines for improving the police work.
Special investigative measures
No progress was made in regard to the dependence of the police on the Security Information Agency (BIA) to implement certain special investigative measures in criminal investigations.
Police dependence on the BIA to carry out certain special investigative measures in criminal investigations is not in line with EU best practices. The police still rely on BIA’s capacities for telecommunications surveillance, which is not in accordance with best European practices. Whereas there has been an initiative in the National Assembly to amend legislation so that all telecommunications surveillance is carried out through an independent unified monitoring centre (such as the one in Croatia), this has not resulted in any concrete proposal yet.
- The Government of Serbia needs to make sure that policing and intelligence competences are strictly separated and to assure that the police have sufficient technical capacities to implement special investigative measures, in the course of criminal investigation, independently from the BIA.
 Full study available at: http://bezbednost.org/All-publications/5657/Partnership-for-Safe-Communities-in-Serbia.shtml.
 Full commentary on the new Draft Law on Police, submitted to the Ministry of Interior by the BCSP, is available in Serbian: www.bezbednost.org/Sve-publikacije/5785/Nacrt-Zakona-o-policiji-dobro-lose-i-sta-moze.shtml .