Two government ministers have expressed skepticism over a Ministry of the Interior plan to amend legislation to broaden the scope of powers granted to auxiliary police personnel.
The proposal refers to Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) auxiliaries (Estonian: Abipolitseinik), rather than the municipal police in Tallinn, a separate entity run by the city government.
The expanded powers would include, inter alia, state border guarding duties, the right to apprehend and detain foreign nationals crossing the border illegally, and the issue of documents.
As reported by ERR News, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said in August that the proposed changes would result in training for auxiliary officers coming to resemble more closely that of their regular counterparts, in addition to boosting the auxiliary force from its current 1,000, approximately, compared with a figure of around 4,000 for regular officers.
Critics question how appropriate this is given that auxiliaries are volunteers (one high-profile example includes MEP Jaak Madison (EKRE), who has worked as an auxiliary officer – ed.) who often work only a few hours in a month, or even in a year.
With expanded numbers at least, the PPA hopes to increase from the current 1,100 auxiliary personnel to 1,600 auxiliaries, in the coming years.
This would be accompanied by 80 percent of that force contributing at least 60 work hours per year.
Minister Läänemets says that each year, 70-100 auxiliary police officers go on to train to become full-time PPA officers, while the scope for doing this will be expanded too, he said. "We will increase the number, from training 200 police officers, to 415 a year."
The proposed legislative amendment made in the summer would allow auxiliary police officers to specialize more than before.
The issue was also politicized.
"In my opinion, the Reform Party has been in power for years and has rather reduced the number of police officers with cuts," Läänemets went on.
"Plus I would also remind you that a few months ago, the Reform Party Minister of Finance wanted to make cuts at the Ministry of the Interior for next year, which would have led to the laying off of several hundred police officers," he went on (cuts to the PPA have been a recurrent topic down the years – ed.).
"I also now understand that both the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance have not discussed this topic. The [Reform] party's position thus remains confusing to me," he continued.
The legislation in question would also boost auxiliary police officers' powers, particularly in acting independently from their regular colleagues.
The rationale from the interior ministry includes not having to wait for regular back up, in rural areas often having to travel long distances, in situations such as dealing with a drunk individual, which may not require regular PPA personnel to resolve.
ERR had aimed to obtain fresh comment from Justice Minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) or Minister of Education Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), who had also raised the question of whether the expansion was needed – an earlier document bearing the latter's signature in fact reflected the ministry's views rather than the minister's, it was argued.
This document had stated that the education ministry does not support the expansion of the rights of auxiliary police officers; Kallas had on a separate occasion stated that auxiliary police officers should not be given the right to access databases, forcibly stop a vehicle, test for alcohol intoxication, or enter a property.
These are primary functions of the PPA, which should not be handed over further to volunteers, than is already the case, Kallas added.
"Instead of widening the rights of auxiliary policemen, the structural solution is to align the number of officers and the tasks to be performed," the statement read.
As for the Ministry of Justice statement, this, too, bore Minister Kalle Laanet's signature, but, opposite to the Kallas communique, these were indeed the minister's own thoughts – meaning that for ministry officials to provide comment would be "inappropriate," while at the same time the minister himself was reportedly on vacation.
The statement given in any case echoed those provided by Kristina Kallas, and also noted that gaps were being plugged in mismanagement of the PPA which had led to a loss of personnel.
The development plan presented by the Ministry of the Interior ignores the possibility of hiring new police officers with the support of additional funds, he added.
Laanet noted that the interior ministry had attempted to make up the shortfall of PPA regular personnel by changing the law to allow officers due for retirement to continue working while they claimed their pension as early as 2018; Laanet added that this bill, which one of his predecessors as justice minister, Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), in any case did not approve, was put in due to there being a large number of PPA officers due for retirement.
Over a decade ago, incoming Interior Minister Ken-Marti Vaher (in office 2011-2014) said that he was hoping for the extension of the rights of auxiliary polie officers along the lines mentioned above, as well as for volunteer first responders.
While legislation has been amended 10 times since then, widening auxiliary police officers' rights in the process, Minister Läänemets proposals represent an even further extension.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming