A lot has changed since the death of police officer Thomas Monjoie exactly one year ago. The North zone was reinforced with ten additional police officers, stricter penalties were introduced for violence against officers and more opportunities to seek the help of specialized psychiatrists. However, this evolution is not always palpable on the ground. “Steps have been taken, but it is going slowly.”
Today marks exactly one year since police officer Thomas Monjoie was stabbed to death while he was on patrol in the Brabant district. A few hours earlier, his attacker, Yassine M., had presented himself at a police station and asked for help because he wanted to ‘kill a police officer’. M. was already on the OCAD’s list of terror suspects.
The police immediately called in the public prosecutor’s office, which ruled that Yassine M. was not eligible for forced admission to an institution. The man was voluntarily transferred to a psychiatric hospital, but left there and murdered the officer that same evening.
“I don’t think colleagues feel that much has changed,” says national chairman of the NSPV police union, Carlo Medo. “Violence against authority figures is a social problem. There are still incidents against police officers, bus drivers or teachers: there is still a lot of violence in society. That problem has not been solved…”
And yet. Things have really changed, for the time being mainly at a local level. Think of the ten extra police officers who reinforced the team in police station 5. Commissariat 5 is in the heart of Brabantwijk, the workload is higher than elsewhere. They lighten the workload and can “provide backup during patrols,” Slosse says.
In addition, the North zone and the Brussels public prosecutor’s office started a close collaboration. The King’s Attorney himself went on patrol to get to know the reality in the Brabant district. The collaboration between the police and the public prosecutor’s office focuses on dealers and perpetrators of violent thefts. The so-called ‘Task Force North’ can now present good results. “On average, we arrest three people a day for the aforementioned offenses,” says Slosse.
Stricter punishments and close cooperation with psychiatry
What about the promises of the then Minister of Justice? Things are also moving within the federal government. A new Criminal Code is currently being discussed in parliament. This includes stricter penalties for violence against the police. Suppose a person gets five years in prison for seriously beating someone up. If the victim is a police officer, the penalty would be ten years.
The legislation surrounding psychiatric admissions – such as that of Yassine M. – is being reformed. The bill has already been approved by the Council of Ministers. In addition to forced admission, there is now a new, additional measure: the so-called ‘voluntary treatment under conditions’. There is also the option to keep the patient under observation for 48 hours. This allows the psychiatrist to make a well-considered decision about possible admission.
Also good news is the idea of a telephone helpline where the police can receive advice from a mental health professional, says Chief Slosse. In the case of Yassine M., the choice was made to opt for a voluntary admission. The possibility of calling on such a helpline can allow a more complete assessment of such a situation. “We are still waiting for the recommendations of the Supreme Court of Justice on this, but if you ask me, the advice of a healthcare professional is desirable in such a case.”
Have the problems been solved with the extra officers, cooperation with the public prosecutor’s office and two changes in the law? Steps have been taken, the chief of police believes, but he still believes things are still going too slowly. The North District remains a particularly difficult area where all the problems of a big city come together: poverty, prostitution, drug dealers, people with serious psychological complaints, people without legal residence. Drug and medication abuse act as an ‘amplifier’ of the problem.
Something has also fundamentally changed among colleagues since Monjoie’s death, Slosse thinks. “Our people have started to look at police work, at themselves and their families, differently. Thomas and Jason were attacked because they are police officers, because of their uniforms….”
Carlo Medo, national secretary of the union, makes a similar statement. “Our colleagues have to fight violence every day.” According to him, this does not make police officers afraid, but it does make them wary: “They feel that the world is changing and that more is expected of the police. The pressure is high, so are the failures and the stressors are numerous.”