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Plan dropped to involve security guards in local law enforcement

Tallinn Municipal Police (Mupo) on ATVs in the city's Old Town.
Tallinn Municipal Police (Mupo) on ATVs in the city's Old Town. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Plans that had been simmering in the Ministry of the Interior for years to involve security companies in municipal law enforcement was left out of the second reading of the relevant bill in the Riigikogu. According to the Ministry of Justice, this idea may be unconstitutional.

While the law allows for it, the majority of local governments in Estonia have not established municipal police-style law enforcement units of their own. Henry Timberg, director of the Ministry of the Interior's Public Order and Criminal Policy Department, believes some of them could get help from private security companies.

"A medium-sized local government has one or two law enforcement officials," Timberg noted. "If they need help, such as in connection with an event, then they can involve security guards, who can help conduct simpler acts."

This, however, would require amending the law. Last week, the security activity bill scheduled for its third and final reading in the Riigikogu this Wednesday still included the relevant sections. With these, security guards' badges, uniforms and vehicles would have borne the title "local law enforcement," and such security guards would have been granted the right to give orders, question people, demand to see personal identification documents and monitor cameras installed in public spaces; they would not have been granted the right to use force or issue fines.

Timberg cited as an example a hypothetical situation in which a security guard involved in local law enforcement sees someone smoking at a bus stop. "Then it would be their duty to approach them, draw the person's attention to the fact that they are breaching public order, in the case of a bigger breach request to see their ID, identify them and later transfer the proceeding to the local government," he explained.

Idea backed by interior ministers from several parties

This particular plan has a long history. The first bill to involve security firms in law enforcement work can be traced back to the Ministry of Justice in 2001, after which it was the Interior Ministry who took up the idea. The Law Enforcement Act, introduced as a bill early last decade, even included an entire, lengthy chapter about it, however politicians at the time dismissed the idea.

In 2016, Hanno Pevkur (Reform), then minister of the interior, brought it up again when introducing the legislative intent for a security activity bill. Three years later, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) circulated the idea as a bill, and last year, Kristian Jaani (Center) as interior minister submitted the bill to the government. The Ministry of Justice was against the proposed change at every stage.

According to Minister of Justice Lea Danilson-Järg (Isamaa), sharing public authority with a private company would be a very fundamental change.

"Maintaining public order and law enforcement as such in general is a core function of the state — a part of the power monopoly," Danilson-Järg said. "And according to the Constitution, the delegation of such a function isn't even permitted either. The University of Tartu (TÜ) and the Supreme Court have supported our opinion [on this] as well."

In their opinion, Monika Mikiver and Andra Laurand, visiting lecturers of administrative law at TÜ's School of Law, noted that most problematic would be if security guards were granted the right to give orders. They noted that officials take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution in their duties.

"Operating under contract under public law, a security firm, the employees of which are planned to be involved in state supervision, is and would remain a person with private interests who lacks a special relationship of trust with the state and whose ultimate goal, as a rule, is to make a profit," the experts noted.

The Supreme Court of Estonia, meanwhile, noted that with the large-scale transfer of public order to private companies, the state would start losing its justification for existence.

"The transfer of tasks in the field of law endorcement cannot become a tendency that would start to undermine the state's own ability to maintain public order should the private person should no longer want or be able to provide law enforcement services for some reason," the Supreme Court wrote.

Legal Affairs Committee dismisses idea

In the Riigikogu, both Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) spoke out against the proposed change. When the Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu discussed the matter last week, it was decided to remove the sections involving municipal law enforcement from the bill.

"Following a lengthy debate and after hearing various opinions, it was nevertheless concluded that this opportunity is currently out of the question," said Urve Tiidus (Reform), the MP leading the handling of the bill, in the Legal Affairs Committee.

According to Tiidus, it was the issues involving the Constitution that became the deciding factor.

"There are arguments in favor of one side and there are arguments in favor of the other side," Timberg said, adding that the Ministry of the Interior had conducted its own analysis as well. "And we believe there is no direct conflict with the Constitution here. There will always be risks. And at the moment, it has been decided that these risks should be reassessed."

Nonetheless, the ministry official doesn't think it's likely this idea is likely to crop up again in some other new bill anytime soon.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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