Blanka Rogowska: After the last demonstration of entrepreneurs in Warsaw, Minister Mariusz Kamiński wrote a letter to the police, the reason for which was to be "a growing campaign of slander directed at the police". Do you also believe that someone is running such a campaign?
Krzysztof Balcer, Chairman of the Trade Union of Policemen of the Łódź Province: I don't agree with the statement that there is a coordinated campaign orchestrated by the media and the opposition against the police. However, it is true that a lot of unfavorable opinions have emerged recently.
Is it the police's fault or are these reports nothing but manipulation?
- In every country, the police is a force of coercion and repression, whose task is to protect the legal order of the state. Recently there has been a lot of legal chaos in Poland. Sometimes the policemen themselves get lost in it and do not know how to behave. It is difficult to have any resentment against those who, in compact units, ensure the safety of an event. Whether we are in a crisis or not, uniformed forces have to follow the orders of their commander. Being on the street, they have neither the time nor the possibility to weigh up whether the order is right. In this formation you work by following the orders. If it were otherwise, the police would be ineffective.
Whether the actions of the police during events such as the entrepreneurs' protest are personally supported by those who perform them as uniformed forces has nothing to do with it. Their commander has a superior, too.
We shouldn't be judged only on the basis of the video recorded on the phone or based on media reports. We fail to see the situation in a broader context this way. A lot of online hatred has poured out on us. In human terms, we feel distressed by this. But it's not that the feeling of sorrow is entirely directed towards the authors of these entries. We are simply saddened by the fact that we are so divided in Poland.
What do the policemen themselves think about the events in Warsaw?
- The Prevention Unit in Łódź is accustomed to being often sent to the capital because of its location. Previously they went to Smolensk monthly marches, then to protests organized under the slogan "Free courts", now to demonstrations of entrepreneurs.
After every such event people speak ill of the police. It is hurtful to the uniformed forces.
They have to face the fact that unfortunately for a few years the formation has not been apolitical anymore.
What does that mean?
- We are dependent on the will of politicians. Before, these two worlds have also influenced each other, but not in this way. Politicians, fulfilling their electoral promises, can, for example, demand that there be more policemen on the street. The problem begins when they interfere in how we do it. Politicians should focus on strategic objectives, not on the tactics of their implementation. Jarosław Zieliński, a former deputy minister of the Ministry of Interior and Administration, tried to micromanage the police. He was deciding on such mundane issues as who should be the head of the precinct etc.
It can't be like that. Politicians cannot dictate to us who will hold positions in the police.
Apparently, there were cases in which the policemen received orders directly from the ministry, without the intermediation of their own superiors. It blows my mind. Fortunately, this changed when Mariusz Kaminski took over the ministry. It is a step towards the return to normality, but when and if we will return to it completely? It's hard to say.
Since June 2018 a group of protesters has been coming to the Administrative Court in Łódź. They were also there during the epidemic. They are no different from other walkers, except for a T-shirt that says "Constitution". Although they keep two meters apart, the police writes them up and calls them for questioning. They claim that the uniformed forces in Łódź are at the service of the Law and Justice party.
- The police of our garrison also issued fines to priests who broke the regulations related to coronavirus. They also stopped the pilgrimage from Łowicz to Jasna Góra. Today on TV Trwam I heard what the clergy are saying about us now. I couldn't believe my ears.
Let's return to the protesters in front of the court in Łódź. These people are accused of taking part in a public gathering, and those were banned because of the epidemic. Going on a walk together while maintaining the required social distancing measures is a gathering?
- I talked to the city commander. He's got a dilemma, too, about how to apply the coronavirus-related regulations that are arising so quickly. The police are filing a motion for punishment in court and it's up to the judge to interpret the existing law. It is not the police that will decide on the possible culpability and punishment.
Some people have already had to attend the hearing several times. Even if the court acquits them, the police's actions can be seen as intimidating.
- I don't think the police has gone beyond the regular course of action in this case. The uniformed forces think that a person has broken the law, so he follows the steps provided by the law for such cases.
If someone does not want to accept the fine, the case is referred to the court. A police officer is not a judge. I can assure you that the officers would also prefer to simply patrol Piotrkowska Street instead of writing these people up.
There was a lot of controversy about the restrictions related to the coronavirus. The police then explained that it was not its role to make the law - it is the responsibility of the government. But it is the policemen who interpret this law by taking actions against certain people or by not doing so.
- Our decisions can be appealed against. At this point the question could be asked if there are free and independent courts in Poland. This is already a conversation about politics, which we do not want to enter into.
What would have to happen in Poland for the police to refuse an order?
- I don't want to imagine that. If the apparatus created by the state in order to protect the legal order would renounce obedience, we could talk about the collapse of the state.
The ruling camp would have to cross some unimaginable line and be in extreme opposition to the whole of society. Such things do not happen in a democracy.
I understand the bitterness of people who protest for example in defence of free courts. But listening to their narratives about the police, I have the impression that they would like us to solve Poland's problems and then to punish the politicians on top of that
We still have democratic elections, we are a thoughtful nation. The majority of voters in the elections express their consent to such a policy.
Or maybe too many are indifferent and do not go to the elections?
On 26 May your trade union submitted a petition to the Sejm to introduce the term of office of the Chief Police Commander and to link the financing of the police to a fixed percentage of the GDP. Is this meant to help restore the political independence of the police forces?
- The idea is good. The term of office guarantees that the Chief Commander will be free from political interference. The question is, what would it be like with implementation. Paweł Wojtunik was head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. The term of office functions there, but it was not enough to protect him from the ruling camp. He was deprived of access to classified information - I don't judge whether it was right or wrong - and had to leave because he was not able to perform his tasks.
One has to think about the length of the term of office, repeatability, the way of choosing the commandant. There is much to talk about. I do not believe that we will manage to settle this matter during this term of the Sejm.
A strong framework limiting the influence of politicians on the police is needed. It already exists because it is guaranteed by the Constitution and the Law on Police. But both laws and the Constitution are interpreted differently nowadays, and this proved that they are no longer a sufficient guarantee.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.
They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.
We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.
The access to information should be equal for all.
Wybierz prenumeratę, by czytać to, co Cię ciekawi
Wyborcza.pl to zawsze sprawdzone informacje, szczere wywiady, zaskakujące reportaże i porady ekspertów w sprawach, którymi żyjemy na co dzień. Do tego magazyny o książkach, historii i teksty z mediów europejskich. Zrezygnować możesz w każdej chwili.