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Zurich police cleared of general brutality

A hospital photo of Eldar S., after his arrest by Zurich police Keystone

Zurich’s city police force has welcomed a local parliament report clearing its officers of systematic brutality.

This content was published on July 10, 2003 - 21:05

The study dismissed claims of a “Rambo” mentality in the force, but did find fault with the police in five specific cases.

The parliamentary commission that published the report was set up in June 2002 to investigate alleged misconduct by the police in ten separate incidents.

Despite its misgivings over the behaviour of some individual officers, the study concluded that the city police was not a “fight club” as some media reports had claimed at the time.

The commission found that “with a few exceptions, the members of Zurich’s police force perform excellent work”.

Relieved

“Of course we’re very relieved by the findings of the commission,” force commandant Philipp Hotzenköcherle told swissinfo, “because it confirms that we don’t have any Rambos in our force and it also shows that we have the trust of our city parliament”.

If it is to maintain that trust, however, Zurich’s police force clearly has some work to do, not least in responding to some 40 recommendations made in the report.

Of the five cases criticised by the commission, two involved excessive levels of violence during police arrests. The first incident led to a 19-year-old man being hospitalised after he resisted arrest. In the second case, a man lost his leg after an officer attempted to stop him using his police car.

The two men, who are still seeking compensation from the police, had both been falsely identified as criminals.

The report also criticised the negligent driving of one police officer at a separate incident in which a bystander was fatally injured. Another officer was criticised for his behaviour after a police check at a private party turned into a mass punch-up.

The final case concerned the suspension of a high-ranking officer that was handled, according to the report, with a “lack of leadership and poor communication”.

Despite his satisfaction with the findings in general, Hotzenköcherle insisted that the police would act swiftly to address the commission’s concerns.

Lessons learned

“We have already learned lessons from all these cases,” Hotzenköcherle told swissinfo, “and we have a long list of measures to introduce, including a 20-step plan that we produced independently of the commission.

“We also plan to adopt all the recommendations made by the commission, with the exception of one relating to the type of ammunition one can use to shoot at car tyres. We are opposed to that particular recommendation only in terms of police tactics.”

The commission’s report provoked mixed responses among the members of the city’s parliament, which approved the findings by 68 votes to 38.

The split was generally along party lines, however, with right-wing Swiss People’s Party members seeking to place further blame on police chief Esther Maurer, a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party.

With national elections looming in October, Zurich’s police force may still prove to be an issue for politicians in the region. Hotzenköcherle hopes though that his individual officers will now find some relief.

“The past year has of course been a great burden emotionally for our men and women,” Hotzenköcherle admitted. “It’s very difficult for police officers to be represented in the media as thugs when they know that they are not.

“But now the report has confirmed what the individual police officers have said all along – that they are doing their jobs correctly, they have the right equipment and they have been properly trained.”

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

Key facts

The parliamentary commission looked into ten alleged cases of misconduct.
It found cause for concern in five of the incidents.
The 140-page report makes more than 40 recommendations as to future police procedures.

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