Ministry wants auxiliary officer training to closer resemble that of police

An auxiliary police officer.
An auxiliary police officer. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian Ministry of the Interior wants to significantly extend the rights of auxiliary police officers so that they can be deployed in a much wider range of areas. The proposed changes would result in training for auxiliary officers becoming more similar to that of regular police officers.

In addition to the almost 4,000 police officers in Estonia, there are also currently more than 1,000 auxiliary police officers. A few hundred of those are able to patrol the streets independently. However, there are some tasks they are not able to perform without first waiting for the arrival of regular police.

At the moment, auxiliary police officers cannot be used to guard Estonia's state borders, detain foreigners, nor can they issue weapons licenses or other documents. However, Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) has now circulated a draft bill, which would give auxiliary police officers significantly more powers.

"They will gain more responsibilities and be able to act more independently. This means that we will waste less police hours," said Läänemets.

Heiko Mihkelson, head of the office for prevention and offense proceedings at the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), said that ways to utilize auxiliary police officers in criminal investigations were also currently being discussed.

"We are training police officers so that they are able to conduct investigations. But it certainly doesn't provide them with the complete knowledge required to solve crimes," Mihkelson said. "There is certainly a lot more expertise, knowledge and experience in the private sector, which would allow us to solve crimes much more efficiently and effectively."

This means, the proposed draft on auxiliary police officers would expand the opportunities for volunteers in two ways. O one hand, there would be a significant increase in the duties for which auxiliary police officers could be deployed including for border control issues and the issuing of documents. On the other hand, they would also be given certain additional rights, including the ability to identify a person via the population register or to use a breathalyzer.

"In the future, we foresee the auxiliary police officers being much more similar to officers who work in the daily regular police force," Mihkelson said. "The difference will perhaps be that they will not be on our daily payroll."

More in-depth training

These changes however, requires a major overhaul to auxiliary police officer training. In a recent survey, the majority of patrol officers interviewed said that they would prefer to have another regular police officer alongside them rather than an auxiliary, because they do not need to be trained and can be consulted for advice if necessary.

Furthermore, many auxiliary police officers said that the 40 hours of training currently offered is not sufficient. Heiko Mihkelson also believes the amount of training given to auxiliary officers needs to be significantly increased. By way of comparison, he pointed to the example of volunteer lifeguards, to whom the state has entrusted a large amount of responsibility.

"With auxiliary police officers, we could do the same if we had better training and better preparation," Mihkelson said.

The new training model would be much more specific and would depend on the tasks auxiliary police officers are assigned to do. This could mean a system whereby each completed training module gives officers more opportunities and rights.

"We can't train universal volunteers all the time, who can do everything," said Läänemets.

The ministry also wants to invite auxiliary police officers with wartime posts to join its crisis reserves.

According to Heiko Mihkelson, the agency wants to increase the number of auxiliary officers from the current 1,100 to 1,600. The ministry also hopes current volunteers will be able to contribute mor to the role, so that 80 percent of auxiliary police officers work at least 60 hours a year.

In its draft proposal, the ministry also wants to provide possibilities to involve volunteers, who do not wish to become auxiliary police officers themselves. In this way, retired police officers could for instance, be able to assist with training without having to prove their physical fitness.

The interior ministry also hopes the amendment will help it to increase the strength of its crisis reserve. For some years now, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense have been discussing whether auxiliary police officers who, as reservists, also have wartime posts, should be given crisis roles in relation to internal security. However, the Ministry of Defense has thus far resisted this, on the grounds that the defense forces (EDF) could suffer as a result.

Now the interior ministry is proposing to lift the restriction. Lauri Läänemets confirms that in a state of war, auxiliary police officers in crisis roles would still be considered equivalent to mobilization call-ups.

"However, there are all sorts of different phases that precede war. And in those crises, which are non-military or pre-war crises, that's where the police force is needed," explained Läänemets. "Whether that means we are talking about border control or other activities to ensure constitutional order. But, of course, they have to be subject to mobilization."


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Editor: Michael Cole

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