Times of crisis demand urgent actions from governments and public institutions in multiple, cross-cutting areas. This sense of urgency makes it difficult to ensure timely interventions are carried out with accountability, transparency and integrity. We sat down with two experts from the Dutch National Police to discuss their efforts and the challenges they faced implementing integrity policies in times of crisis. 

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The Dutch National Police is the biggest employer in the Netherlands, with over 62 thousand full-time staff – and their work is complex, being in continuous articulation with other institutions. To fulfil their mandate of protecting democracy and enforcing the rule of law in the Netherlands, the Dutch National Police works daily with a wide range of actors that include local governments, public prosecution services and emergency response services. It is in this context that the Dutch National Police gave a presentation during the Autumn Series of the Hague Academy’s Matra Rule of Law programme on Integrity & Anti-Corruption.

Ensuring Integral Police Work

The Dutch police defines integrity as autonomously acting in a just way, without being driven by self-interest, and transparently. The police’s definition of integrity, catered toward the ‘public good’, is directly linked to its mandate to serve the Dutch public.

To ensure integrity in its work, the Dutch National Police works closely with two departments: the Rijksrecherche, an investigation department that is under the independent authority of the Public Prosecutor Service of the Netherlands, and its own internal department of security, integrity, and complaints, or Veiligheid Integriteit en Klachten (VIK). The Rijksrecherche serves as an independent investigation unit that focuses on criminal conduct within the government, while VIK is a unit embedded within the police force, investigating police employees and screening and handling citizen complaints on police misconduct.

While these two provide institutional pillars for pursuing integrity within the Dutch government and the police, further measures are taken to promote institutional integrity. First is an integrity policy that operates on three levels: the organisational, process and individual. These policies focus on, for example, creating an ethical organisational climate with clear rules and fair play rules; removing risks in the police processes, by strengthening internal administration and emphasising on ‘lessons learned’ in internal audits; and individual accountability. Practically speaking, along these three levels of operation, the police’s policy of integrity aims to protect actions of goodwill institutionally (for example, protecting whistleblowers), to enhance and enforce its processes through continuous evaluation and implementation, and to restrict (and dissuade) individual transgressions on integrity.

From appointing ombudspersons to ‘dilemma scenario’ training for police staff, a policy for integrity translates to various practical examples from the Dutch National Police. Some important ones to highlight for interested local governance practitioners are 1) the clear code of conduct and oath taken by individual police staff, 2) clear toolkits that outline moral dilemmas and best practices for individuals to refer to, and 3) active moral dilemma and integrity training.

The relative success of the integrity policy by the Dutch National Police is due to its multi-tiered approach, emphasising responsibility at the organisational and individual levels, without forgetting pitfalls in the daily process between them.

The COVID pandemic and Institutional Integrity

The COVID pandemic temporarily changed the nature of crime in the Netherlands. As our police experts shared, online crime saw a 127% increase in 2020. There were fewer ‘public’ crimes like burglaries, but cases of domestic violence and online fraud rose.

The challenge to integral police work came two-fold, first in adapting to a rise in non-conventional (online) crimes they had a less robust capacity to tackle, and second, in the challenges that COVID health restrictions put on administrative police work in general.

Our experts from the Dutch National Police explained how, with rapidly changing policy and practice due to changing circumstances, new challenges arose to provide the same level of integral scrutiny. Staff safety, for example, now needed to be balanced with the public interest – to what extent were police staff exempt from public pandemic regulations to carry out their public mandate, if at all? The issue of process arose – where and how to ensure a transparent process in changing circumstances and capacities, both physically and online?

The Dutch National Police has taken steps to tackle the challenges COVID-19 posed to future crises. First, there is the Nationale Staf Bijzonder Grootschalig Optreden (NSGBO), created as a special operational framework that is to be implemented in future crises. Crucially, one of its measures is to devolve power to local coordinating units with clear guidelines from national staff, aiming for operational flexibility during a crisis. Additionally, the NSGBO framework is paired with continued efforts to evaluate internal procedures and processes, taking in lessons from the pandemic, and increasing the police’s capacity to understand and tackle the fast-changing landscape of online and digital crime.

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Are you interested in promoting integrity, transparency and anti-corruption measures in public institutions? Then check out our two-week course on Integrity & Anti-Corruption.