During protests, also yesterday in The Hague, they are filmed against their will by bystanders. On social media they get the full coverage and last week cell and task penalties were handed out to rioters who attacked them. Lately, members of the police arrest unit have been in the picture more often than they like, because they prefer to operate as anonymously as possible.
The team’s task is to pick out the biggest rioters during demonstrations and other riots as quickly as possible before things escalate further. But because of their increasing visibility, the worries increase.
“Do it if you have to
The chief of police and the police union recently sounded the alarm about the way in which the actions of the police are portrayed in a bad light. Violence against the arrest unit has been increasing lately, says section commander Jos of the arrest team.
“We get everything thrown at our heads: stones, bicycles, fireworks and recently even a cast iron manhole cover. This is not only dangerous for us, but also for bystanders. Then we intervene, and that can be by force. We don’t go for it, but we do it when necessary. It’s about safety.”
Things can get tough when arrested. Some critics say it’s too harsh, and the cops also provoke violence. On 20 August a demonstration got out of hand in The Hague. Several people were arrested, including a 48-year-old Hagenaar. He is said to have beaten an officer of the arrest unit with a full backpack. According to his lawyer Maarten van der Weerd, the suspect does not deny this, but his reaction can be explained.
“On that day, my client stood with a group of people in a place where they were allowed to stand. Suddenly a van appeared and cops jumped out of it. According to my client, they immediately started beating up someone who was injured to the point of bleeding. The people around them, including my client, reacted. Then he was arrested.”
These images of the arrest unit fighting demonstrators on 20 August could be seen on Twitter:
Van der Weerd finds the way of working remarkable. “There was nothing wrong. My client and the group didn’t provoke and weren’t rioting. There were also regular agents in uniform, so why is such a fierce commitment necessary? There could be such a fierce counter-reaction from the group.”
According to section commander Jos of the arrest unit, his officers never use force when it’s not necessary. What’s more, a selective picture often emerges when they arrest people. “We don’t arrest just anybody. We arrest the person who has already committed a serious crime, thereby endangering public order. But the critics often don’t know that, we do.”
According to attorney Van de Weerd they just threw oil on the fire. “It doesn’t de-escalate. My client has been at several demonstrations and according to him the arrest unit deliberately creates more chaos. Protesters react to that again and then the chaos becomes even greater. Then the ME can wipe the place clean.”
Van de Weerd questions the way the arrest unit works. He wants to call the commander and a number of members of the arrest unit as witnesses in his client’s trial. “I wonder if there’s another way to arrest people. Why are the officers dressed as demonstrators? If they’re visible from the police, it might escalate less quickly. In the chaos, sometimes you don’t know who you’re up against. It could also be someone other than a cop.”
Section Commander Jos says they’re only used to arrest people who already have something on their hands. “We just want to avoid chaos. We’re picking people out to take the sting out of the protests. We don’t want violence or chaos.”
In this video, the arrest unit shows how they operate during an exercise. Agents of the unit have been portrayed unrecognizably
According to the policeman it’s just some demonstrators who occasionally provoke an arrest. “Sometimes someone is filming while someone else is provoking us. They’re hoping that we’ll intervene and that they’ll stream it live on Facebook. We apply for that and then sometimes we postpone an arrest”, says the section commander.
“We are also ordinary policemen with other tasks, we do this”, he emphasizes. “Recently they called on Facebook to see if someone could find out our names and addresses. That’s not a pleasant feeling. If the day after tomorrow I’m doing something completely different, I don’t want to be bothered because I was recognised on a video