Police brutality: why was no action taken?

It has emerged that Belgium Committee P, the watchdog of the police services, warned about the use of violence by Special Intervention Units as early as 2003. The units are in the spotlight after footage surfaced showing a unit member thumping a suspect in a police cell shortly before he died.

The police watchdog investigated Special Intervention Units that operate as part of Belgium's local police forces as early as 2002. Shortly afterwards the Committee P also issued a warning in connection with the use of violence.

In its annual report in 2003 the police watchdog said that the development towards "pseudo special units" at certain local police forces was worrying. The report notes that the units are illegal and that standards of training vary from force to force. The Committee noted that the units are using more violence "on average" and raised the question whether this was justified.

In earlier annual reports the Committee wondered if the unit belonged in a local police force. Questions were also raised about pressure on members and the potential for dangerous situations.

No action was taken with regard to the watchdog's call for the units to be organised by the federal authorities.

It's unclear whether any action will now be taken against the officers pictured in the video footage first screened on VRT television. The Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever (Flemish nationalist) says he cannot take any action to suspend any officers involved for the time being because he has not received the recommendation needed from the public prosecutor to allow such action.