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Back to Archives | Back to July 2006 Contents 

Democratic Reform in Polish Policing

By Willard M. Oliver, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX; Paul M. Klenowski, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Thiel College, Greenville, PA; and Andy DiMambro, Graduate Student, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX


n May 1, 2004, Poland, along with nine other mostly eastern European nations, was admitted into the European Union, bringing that group's membership to 25 nations.1 It was a momentous occasion for Poland, which has a population of more than 38 million and is the seventh-largest country in the European Union.2

Poland now faces a mixture of euphoria and difficulties. Poland is pleased to have left communism behind and to have been accepted into the European Union after petitioning for membership in 1994. But it faces numerous difficulties trying to catch up with the modernity and economic stability of the other members of the European Union, while many Poles retain a communistic mentality. History has shown that the Polish people have been resilient throughout the centuries, so there is little doubt it will rise to this challenge.

The Polish police system is rapidly adapting to the 21st century. Like police in many countries, the Polish police are grappling with organized crime, gangs, drug trafficking, and terrorism. Added to these problems are the transnational crimes, human trafficking, and illegal immigration that plague Poland, which sits precariously between the East and the West. In addition to dealing with these and other common crimes, Poland's police are also addressing the organizational issues for integrating into the European Union. Finally, it must be noted that the Polish police force, officially formed on August 10, 1990, is one of Europe's youngest.

In spite of these challenges, Polish police have made great strides and are quickly adapting to modern police practices and technology. To better understand how Poland has modernized its police, a quick review of the Polish police system history will help.

Polish Citizen's Militia
Under both communist and post communist governments, the Polish police system has traditionally operated under the auspices of national authority. Starting at the end of World War II, Poland, although never fully occupied by the Soviet Union, fell under the spell of its eastern neighbor, especially in 1948 when the country's turn toward Stalinism brought the beginning of totalitarian rule.

Poland formed the Polish Citizen's Militia, a kind of police force, at the end of 1944, while Poland was still in a theater of war, but just before Europe became divided. The citizen's militia would remain the predominant means of policing in Poland until 1990. The highly centralized nature of the militia and its lack of any great power placed it largely under the control of the Security Bureau, which used it to instill fear in the local populace.

The Police Act of 1990
In 1989, as the Berlin Wall began to fall, communism's grip on Poland relaxed as well, especially under the influence of the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa3 and Pope John Paul II4 . As Poland entered into a new era of independence, the Polish Parliament abolished the Polish militia and passed the Police Act in April of 1990. The Police Act established a bona fide police department, separated from politics by citizen oversight, and charged with the mission of controlling crime under the auspices of a democratic state by relying upon the rule of law and protecting the rights of its citizens. The act called for a uniformed police service that was charged with protecting citizens from unlawful acts, providing security and public order, detecting crimes and their perpetrators, preventing crime, and supervising the city guard (a form of public-private security). Specifically, the act created a national police force that would consist of criminal police, traffic police, local police, and several specialized police units including the railway police, water police, air police, and the antiterrorist unit.

The movement from the Security Bureau under communism to the Polish police force under the control of the Ministry of the Interior created a number of immediate problems. Many Polish citizens and leaders embraced the movement toward democracy, but many clung to the past. As the Polish police force moved toward implementing more democratic measures, many of the members of the previous Security Bureau and citizen's militia could not make the necessary adjustment and were dismissed. The departing employees represented more than half of the administrative, or commissioned, police officers and approximately one-third of the line officers. The dismissals led officials to promote younger officers into administrative positions and hire a high number of new recruits. In fact, in 1995, the number of new police officers to be trained stood at 50,000.

Community Policing, Polish Style
On March 27, 1995, the minister of internal affairs, Andrzej Milczanowski, announced a new plan for the Polish police called Safe City. The concept, based on the international movement toward community oriented policing principles, was essentially to have Polish police work closer with citizens and develop partnerships with the communities. The term "community policing" did not translate well into Polish, and Polish police came to know it as "operation zero" as the initial concepts of community policing, such as foot patrols, were implemented. In addition, various crime prevention programs such as were implemented. Soon, however, "community policing" in Poland came to refer to simply any new initiative in policing.

Polish Police Today
The Polish police today are part of the Ministry of the Interior and are administered by a general inspector out of the national headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. The national headquarters supervises 16 province headquarters known as Voivodships that are essentially regional police similar to the various provincial police forces in Canada. It also is directly responsible for the Warsaw police headquarters.

The 16 Voivodships then supervise the nation's 392 county police agencies (Poviat), and these county police have under their control the local police stations (komisariaty), of which there are approximately 1,800. Although Poland still maintains a chain of command from local police to the national headquarters, the provincial, county, and the government administrations at their specific levels. Therefore, there is an element of local control over the local police.

Organization of Policing Services
The organization is divided into different police services and these consist of the prevention service, the criminal service, and support service. The prevention service, which accounts for 58 percent of the police assignments, comprises the uniformed police, and it has primary responsibility for police patrol. Prevention service units include the court police and the prevention squads. The prevention squads consist of the special units such as the water police, air police, and railway police, while the antiterrorist unit is a special reaction team deployed out of the Warsaw area to respond to terrorist incidents such as hostage takings or hijackings.

The criminal service is similar to the detective bureau in a major metropolitan police department in the United States. The criminal service accounts for 34 percent of the organization's personnel. In the 1990s, the Central Investigation Bureau, which is akin to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, was created in the national police headquarters.

The support service provides personnel and logistical support for the entire Polish police force and consists 8 percent of service force.

The Budget
Because the police in Poland are a national police force, the budget for the police is also centralized. Poland's police service underwent a major reform beginning in January 1999, when new legislation mandated that 80 percent of the budget is to be passed along to the Voivodships in order for them to run their respective agencies and the local police departments under their control. The other 20 percent of the national budget for police is used to fund the national police headquarters in Warsaw and all of the special units such as the police training schools and the antiterrorism unit. In addition, equipment, such as vehicles and firearms, is purchased with this allocation of funds.

As in the United States, the largest police expenditure in the budget is for personnel. Polish police salaries have risen slightly in the past 15 years but still are not high. Police recruits earn on average U.S. $3,500 a year, and patrol officers make approximately U.S. $5,000 a year.

The Officers
There are approximately 100,000 police officers and 18,000 civilians serving the Polish police. Approximately 17 percent are commissioned officers who serve in administrative positions. Roughly 35 percent are noncommissioned officers who serve as field supervisors. The rest are line officers. Over 70 percent of the police force is under the age of 40, and about 10 percent of the force is female.

The Polish police force, like its counterpart agencies in many other countries, faces high employee turnover. Police officers often find it more financially rewarding to enter private security or to secure other positions in law enforcement that pay higher salaries, such as a job with the peacekeeping missions sponsored by the United Nations.

Police officers traditionally carry a short rubber nightstick, a pair of handcuffs, a walkie-talkie, a whistle, and a canister of CS gas. The firearms they train with and carry include old Russian weapons such as the P64 (9mm), the Walther P-99 (9mm), and both the Glock 17 and the Glock 26.

The vehicles they drive are the Polonez (a Polish-made version of the Fiat), the Nysa (a Polish-made van used by tactical units), the UAZ (a Russian-made van), and the more European Fiat five-door.

The Polish police have very modern equipment for riot control and they appeared to have the latest equipment for many of their special units. But much of the equipment carried by the average patrol officer appeared dated, and protective vests did not appear to be standard issue for the officers.

Like the equipment, the training facilities and the training itself appeared to be an amalgam of old and new. As the number of police recruits to be trained during the 1990s increased dramatically, with the number of recruits to train each year reaching nearly 17,000, the demand overwhelmed the main police training facility in Szcztno and led to the creation of new training academies. These additional training academies were established in Legionowo, just north of Warsaw, and in Slupsk, Pila, and Katowice.

The training offered at Legionowo was conducted in a barracks-style setting in buildings from the communist era. The training is conducted in the military style but without the U.S. practice of physical fitness in the morning, as Polish police officers are expected to maintain their physical fitness on their own. Some of the classes were on the cutting edge, such as their indoor firearms training. Most of the classes appeared to be equivalent to the type of training available at police academies in the United States, with recruits learning how to defend themselves, how to conduct felony vehicle stops, and how to collect fingerprints and shoe and tire impressions.

Reforms and the Future
The Polish police have been aggressively implementing reforms to update the entire force. One of the current reforms under way involves working with both U.S. and EU officials to develop protocols based on Poland's entry into the European Union. The negotiations regarding these reforms, protocols, and various treaties are currently under way and appear to be promising for not only U.S. and EU interests but also for the Polish police force's modernization efforts.

The Polish police have also implemented a number of reforms aimed at modernizing its police. One reform has been the strengthening of its relationships with Interpol, which it joined in 1990. Another reform involves working closely with the European Police Office (Europol) and signing a border crossing agreement, which has become all the more important with Poland's admittance to the European Union, for Poland now serves as the eastern border guard for all Europe. The Polish police have also established a relationship when it comes to training with French and German police, the FBI, and the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest.

On an operational level, the Polish police have established a modern command-and-control center that uses the latest computer technology and widescreen monitors for tracking crimes, disorder, and police response. The police have also established the use of the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) for fingerprint identification throughout Poland. In January 2003, the National Center for Criminal Information was opened to serve as an intelligence gathering and analyzing system at combating organized crime in Poland by sharing information with not only Polish police, but with other European Union members as well.

At the time of this writing, Polish police are also working to establish the National Police Information System (KSIP) for sharing information through a central database that can process data on 12.5 million crimes, can store information on more than 8 million individuals, and can serve all 100,000 police officers through 20,000 access stations, mostly at local police stations. The implementation of this particular system will bring Poland's police in line with the computer systems used by police in other EU member nations, thus allowing them to fully integrate by the year 2007, which is in keeping with the EU plan.

Combating Terrorism
With the impact of the attacks of September 11, 2001, having been felt not only in the United States but also worldwide, Poland is finding specific ways to address the potential threat of terrorist violence. One of Poland's answers to such threats are units designed specifically to respond to terrorist situations. Antiterrorist units (ATUs) in the Polish national police are the equivalent of the American tactical response team. There are approximately 15 of these well-trained units on call 24 hours a day throughout the country.

Similar to their American counterparts, a position within these units is highly sought after and extremely competitive. The requirements and training for the officers in these elite units are mentally and physically exhausting, and once an officer earns a position on a team, training becomes an ongoing process.

One of the many training tools the ATU has at its disposal is a live-fire hostage simulation arena. This complex is designed with interweaving hallways and closed off rooms that are scattered throughout the arena to represent and recreate the various obstacles that a team might encounter while attempting to rescue a hostage or regain control of a building. Above the entire complex is a catwalk that enables other officers and supervisors to observe the team throughout the entire training exercise. This setup allows supervisors to better train officers in a practical environment. To demonstrate the complete trust of the unit, a supervisor often stands in the middle of the room with enemy silhouettes on either side of him while the team initiates an assault with live fire.

Osmology a New Forensic Technique
An interesting advancement in Polish policing is osmology, or scent identification, which is considered to be one of the newest yet most effective areas of forensic science investigation.5 Osmology uses specially trained dogs controlled by specially selected and trained police officers for the trace scent identification of suspected criminals. Human beings leave trace scents on every surface they touch, which means that criminals leave trace scents at crime scenes. The most popular breeds of dogs used for forensic investigations in Poland and other European countries are German shepherds, Belgian shepherds, Polish shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and German schnauzers.

Both the dog and the handler, usually a police officer, must undergo continuous annual training and evaluation. Initially, both the dog and his trainer attend a seven-month training class at the Polish Canine Training Center. Dogs that are initially selected must possess, among other things, a keen and decisive sense of smell. After this initial training, a dog can only obtain certification after successful completion of a short-term probationary period in a police unit. These certificates are renewed each year, and the dogs are either permitted to continue working or are simply disqualified due to unsatisfactory results.

Either a crime scene investigator or the actual canine officer can carry out collection of trace scents. The scent collection process involves several steps and calls for an acute attention to detail. First, pieces of cotton swabs, known as absorbers, are placed on a particular area or object. Aluminum foil is then used to cover these swabs for roughly 30 minutes. Afterward, the investigator uses tweezers to remove the foil and collect the swabs and subsequently places each swab in a glass jar with a screw on lid. The jars are logged into evidence and photographed then taken to a lab where they are labeled, Next, an evaporation vacuum method is used to further extract scents from surface absorbers and place them on new neutral absorbers. Each of these cotton absorbers is then placed back into its labeled container and sealed until the appropriate scent comparison can be extracted from the suspect. Once a comparison is taken from a suspect, the officer and the canine can conduct an official laboratory examination.

The canine officer then conducts an assessment in a controlled laboratory environment to see if a suspect can be linked to scents taken from a crime scene. First, the officer places numerous glass jars filled with different human scents in a row on the floor of the examination room. Usually the officer will have three or four comparison jars along with the actual scent taken from the crime scene. Next, outside the examination room, the canine is permitted to smell the scent taken from a suspect who is implicated for that particular crime. Then, the officer takes the dog into the exam room and verbally instructs the dog to locate the identical scent of the suspect. The dog will then systematically inspect each scent until the dog indicates to the officer that a match has been made (usually by sitting in front of the container). If the dog does not sit down, then it is considered that the scent of the suspect in question is most likely not the same as the criminal's scent that was collected from the crime scene.

Although Polish criminal justice officials acknowledge that osmology is in its infancy as a viable forensic tool, it should be noted that other European countries have also started to employ these same techniques for crime scene investigations. In a report presented during the 1999 International Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Jozef Wojcikiewicz, a professor of forensic science in the Department of Criminalistics at the Jagiellonian University and Institute of Forensic Research, in Krakow, Poland, noted that the Polish code of criminal procedure includes the principle of free appraisal of evidence, that is, "the procedural organs determine their position based on all of the evidence, appraised and independently according to the rules of correct reasoning as well as on the basis of knowledge and life experience." 6

Wojcikiewicz reports that the Polish courts have rendered decisions on osmology based on the principle of free appraisal of evidence. The Polish Supreme Court has stated that osmological opinions, together with facial sketches and a polygraph examination, are sufficient evidence for detention of a suspect if their results are conclusively similar.7 The lower Polish courts, which deal with many cases that submit forensic findings, consider this trace evidence as circumstantial and by itself not enough to convict a criminal suspect.8 Essentially, it appears as though the courts are considering osmology as an investigative aid and not as scientific evidence at this time.

The evaluation of scientific evidence usually requires any procedure or process to be empirically verified; to be tested, peer-reviewed, and published; to have a known error rate for validity and reliability; and to be a standardized and generally accepted. Although it remains to be seen whether the investigative techniques rooted in osmology as offered by Poland will withstand the judicial and legal scrutiny of other countries' criminal justice systems, the fact that the Polish police are undertaking innovative scientific research illustrates the emerging importance of the young democratic state in modern-day policing.

Final Observations
The Polish criminal justice system resides in a relatively new democracy. The Polish police are reflective of the people, who have a time-honored respect for hard work, ethical fortitude, community cohesiveness, and unrelenting resolve. This new democracy has created and implemented policies and programs that have helped Polish officials lower their overall national crime rate. Nevertheless, it will take the concerted effort of both scholars and practitioners from all nations to join forces to create an international alliance to fight what seems to be a rapidly spreading global crime pandemic. ■

1 The European Union went from 15 to 25 members on May 1, 2004. The member nations of the European Union are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
2 Poland is the seventh most populous European country, behind Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Ukraine, and Spain.
3 Lech Walesa, born September 29, 1943, was an activist who helped form free noncommunist trade unions and the Solidarity movement. In October 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In April 1990 Walesa was elected chair of the Solidarity movement with 77.5 percent of the vote. In December 1990, in a general ballot, he was elected president of the Republic of Poland. He served until he was defeated in the election of November 1995.
4 Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) reigned as pope of the Roman Catholic Church from October 16, 1978, until his death. He was the first, and to date the only, Polish pope.
5 Excerpted here are the highlights of this concept. For a complete description, see Tomasz Bednarek, "Osmology, or the System of Human Scent Examination in Forensic Laboratories in Poland," April 29, 2005, (, May 25, 2006.
6 Jozel Wojcikiewicz, "Dog Scent Evidence: Is It Scientific?" paper delivered at the International Academy of Forensic Sciences, Los Angeles, 1999, (, May 25, 2006.
7 Postanowienie Sadu Najwyzszego [Decision of the Supreme Court] (1998a), II KZ 93/98, II KZ 98/98, from August 12 (unpublished), and Postanowienie Sadu Najwyzszego [Decision of the Supreme Court] (1998b), IV KO 101/98, from December 21 (unpublished), cited in Jozel Wojcikiewicz, "Dog Scent Evidence: Is It Scientific?" paper delivered at the International Academy of Forensic Sciences, Los Angeles, 1999, (, May 25, 2006.
8Postanowienie Sadu Apelacyjnego w Warszawie [Decision of the Warsaw Court of Appeals] (1998), II Aka 259/98, from July 10 (unpublished), cited in Jozel Wojcikiewicz, "Dog Scent Evidence: Is It Scientific?" paper delivered at the International Academy of Forensic Sciences, Los Angeles, 1999, (, May 25, 2006.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 7, July 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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