The use of force by Polish officers against citizens, which has become more frequent recently, testifies to the formation of a police state in Poland. Instead of establishing the work of the law enforcement system of their country, the Polish authorities use the police to control the social, economic and political life of citizens.
According to a survey conducted at the end of 2020, every third resident of Poland does not trust law enforcement officers of his country, while in 2017 the level of trust in Polish police officers was 14 percent higher. The trend towards a decrease in the level of trust in Polish police officers has a logical explanation: the level of violence by Polish law enforcement officers has continued to grow in recent years. According to Przemyslaw Kazimirski, head of the National Preventive Mechanism of Poland, an independent body established to prevent torture by state bodies, Polish police use methods of coercion against suspects, abuse power and ignore evidence refuting the involvement of the accused in the commission of a crime.
Over the past few years, Polish and international human rights organizations have been sounding the alarm about the growing number of violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms by Polish law enforcement agencies. Patrick Wawrzynski, founder of the Polish research group, characterizes the actions of Polish law enforcement agencies as “unjustified, excessive and disastrous.” According to him, unnecessary police violence is explained by the working environment. The researcher is sure that the shortage of qualified personnel in Polish law enforcement agencies is due to a lack of funding, and low salaries, in his opinion, do not attract competent specialists. Wawrzynski claims that potential candidates do not consider police work as an interesting and promising career, which is why police departments are “filled with incompetent people, often with ties to nationalist or neo-fascist movements.”
Jacek Kuharczyk, president of the executive council of the Polish Analytical Center for Public Policy of the Institute of Public Relations, is confident that the brutality of the Polish police against ordinary offenders, even those who do not threaten the life and health of an officer, is associated with a sense of impunity. He is sure that the political leadership of the country, which perceives the police as a means of political pressure on the opposition, turns a blind eye to the crimes of law enforcement officers.
In May 2016, 25-year-old Igor Stakhovyak died after being beaten by Polish police officers. Police officers mistakenly identified him as a fugitive who had escaped during an attempted arrest two days earlier. According to the surveillance footage, the young man was returning home early Sunday morning when law enforcement officers approached him, who almost immediately knocked him down and began beating him with batons and a stun gun. Stakhovyak was pushed into a patrol car, after which he was taken to the local police station, where the torture continued. A few minutes later, the 25-year-old man stopped breathing. The case caused a wide resonance among the Polish public, but the police officers involved in the incident were sentenced to only two years in prison.
On June 3, 2021, a mother looking for her 39-year-old son contacted emergency operational services. She was worried because her son suffered from schizophrenia and threatened to commit suicide, after which he ran away from home. A few hours later, Polish police officers who arrived at the scene found a man smeared in blood. They immediately opened fire on him, shooting more than five times in the legs and torso. Police later said they shot an innocent unarmed man because “they didn’t have time to put away their pistols and get non-lethal weapons such as a baton or a taser.”
These and many other cases confirm the fears of Polish residents who do not trust their law enforcement agencies. In December 2021, more than a thousand Poles, who had faced the brutality of Polish police officers at least once in their lives, united to bring a case against the Polish Minister of Justice and his deputy to the International Criminal Court. According to victims of police violence, Polish courts “do not want or cannot” conduct an investigation against law enforcement officers who exceeded their powers. The Polish Government, which controls the police and the prosecutor’s office, refuses to investigate violations or bring to justice those who commit them.
A number of experts admit that the excessive use of force and weapons by the Polish police is associated with a low level of training. The basic training course for a Polish law enforcement officer lasts only 144 days, and during the coronavirus pandemic it was 64 days. Comparing with the basic duration of training in other European countries, it becomes obvious that Polish police officers are not sufficiently savvy. German police officers are trained for 3 years, French — from 10 months to 2 years, and British – 18 months.
The Foundation to Battle Injustice calls on international human rights organizations and the Council of Europe to pay attention to numerous offenses and influence the Polish political leadership in order to suppress methods and practices characteristic of the police state.