An amendment is seen as an effort to increase public trust in the police.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 04/03/14
Police investigations will be monitored by a civil council under the new law. [AFP]
Croatia is planning to institute a council of civil representatives to monitor criminal investigations in order to improve police transparency.
The civil control falls under an amendment to the law on police activities, which the government adopted on February 7th. According to the amendment, the council will be comprised of civil representatives who will have the power to conduct surveillance after criminal investigations by police.
"In the past, there have been some cases that have caused public doubt in the exactness of the operations of the police, especially when it came to wiretapping. This law will find a balance between crime prevention and democratic methods of surveillance," Dusan Miljus, a spokesman for the internal affairs ministry, told SETimes.
Previously, only the secret service was under citizen oversight.
With the separation of the secret service and the police department after Croatia's independence in 1992, the police received a number of powers in order to combat all forms of crime. Among these were the ability to use wiretaps with a warrant from the court, and to obtain a list of telecommunication traffic and locate any cell phone without a court order.
Djuro Lubura, a permanent court expert in telecommunications, technology and methodology of wiretapping based in Zagreb, said that police obtain lists of telecommunication traffic and locations from more than 50,000 cell phones per year.
"This law is certainly a step forward because the state is introducing civilian oversight of police as a general term. However, from a professional standpoint, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the proposed changes will not completely solve the problem. In fact, I believe it is clear to everyone that the body, which will have limitations in their work, will not be able to do much. So while I think that it is good that the government admitted that the civil police surveillance is necessary, in the future the authorities will seriously need to work on it and make it functional to prevent the abuse of violation of personal privacy," Lubura told SETimes.
Civic activists said civilian surveillance of the police is necessary at the EU level.
"We welcome this decision by the government, but I think that is more efficient and effective to strengthen the existing councils, rather than create new ones. Although the new proposal reduces the number of persons authorised to issue commands to launch secret measures, it still rejects printing of telephone calls and locating users need to obtain court approval. In this way, the judicial power is excluded from secret surveillance measures implemented by the police," Gordan Bosanac, expert in charge of human security, peace building and public policy at the Centre for Peace Studies in Zagreb, told SETimes.
Some Croatian citizens also welcomed the new law.
''The police need to serve citizens and to protect them in the best possible way. Of course, police have force, but that force should be used for protection and not for abuse. I hope that the measures of the new law will not remain only on paper,'' Jozo Mackic, a construction worker from Split, told SETimes.
What steps can the regional governments take to ensure citizen confidence in the police? Tell us what you think below.