Dossier: use of force

Our goal

Law enforcement officers apply only necessary violence and government officers are transparent and can be held accountable on the use of force.

Independent oversight

• There will be and independent integrity office for internal and external wrongdoings by law enforcement officials.

• The Ministry of Justice and Security publishes anonymized data that provides insight into the use of force by police, border police, and special investigative officers (‘BOA’s’). This data includes the ethnicities of civilians, the reason for contact and outcomes of police contact, as well as injuries and casualties if applicable.

• Police, border police and municipalities will make public all (anonymized) internal investigations into racism and violence by law enforcement officials.

• Every single case where someone died who was under responsibility of law enforcement officials is reviewed by an independent judge.

Reducing the use of force

• Electric shock weapons (tasers) will be removed from basic police equipment. The recent decision to introduce the taser relied on spurious reasoning, as demonstrated by this episode of Medialogica.

• Chokeholds will be banned. The number of chokeholds by police has been increasing. Chokeholds pose unnecessarily high health risks and are not in line with police aspiring to be a servant of the people.

• Discharging firearms during arrests with no immediate threat to life will be banned. The current police instruction violets ‘Basic Principles’ put forward by the United Nations (1990, p. 110).

• The possible introduction of rubber bullet weapons will be terminated.

• The threshold for the use of K-9 police dogs is raised. Episodes by Zembla show the traumatic effects of the use of these dogs on people. Additionally, police dogs are subjected to severe animal abuse during their training.

Five things you need to know about the use of force by the Dutch police

What constitutes an application of force?

Use of force is defined by law enforcement as applying violence. The official instruction lists various means of violence at the disposal of police, including handcuffs, the baton, pepper spray, the water canon, tasers, police dogs and firearms. Physical violence, such as punching or kicking, is not listed in the official instruction.

When is the use of force justified?

Law enforcement officials may use force, but the use should comply to the regulations. The rules regarding the use of force are found in police law (Politiewet) and in the official instruction (Ambtsinstructie). Together, these are referred to as the instruction on the use of force. It stipulates that the use of force needs to be necessary and proportional and must serve a lawful purpose. In short: the use of force must be proportionate to its purpose. In simple terms: if police catch you stealing a loaf of bread, they are not allowed to shoot you.

Should officers use more violence than legally permitted, they are engaging in disproportionate force. Disproportionate use of force violates the human rights of victims. Are you able to recognize disproportionate force when you see it?

The official instructions were amended in 2021. In doing so, the threshold for using force was lowered rather than raised: police now boasts substantially broader powers to apply violence.

How often does law enforcement use force?


In the years before 2019, police reported 11.000 instances per year where force was used against civilians. In 2019, police started a new method of reporting violence. In this year, police reported over 24.000 uses of force. In 2020, police reported 27.272 instances of force by police officers. In 2021, this happened 30.046 times. In 2022, police reported 33.585 instances of force.

Special investigative officers (‘BOA’s)

According to the yearly report by police, BOA’s used force 267 times in 2020. The report states in 2021, BOA’s were involved in 523 incidents that involved force, it remains unclear how often they used force. The BOA’s at the national railways reported 2765 violent incidents. In 2022, the year report of the police didn’t provide data on use of force by BOA’s.

Royal border police

There are no figures providing insight into the use of force by Dutch border police.

How are applications of force evaluated?

The rules of the official instructions apply for police, border police and BOA’s. Below, we describe the internal procedure on scrutinizing the use of force.


Since 2020, police evaluates applications of force as follows. If an officers reports having used force, it is reviewed by the Assistant District Attorney (HOvJ). The HOvJ is a police officer specifically trained for this purpose. The applications are written down in BVH, the police’s digital notebook. If the firearm was used, the application had a deadly outcome, or if there were “more than minor injuries”, a so-called ‘report on the use of force’ is drafted.

In 2020, police state 13% of all applications of force resulted in such reports. The reports are reviewed by the heads of sector, the unit leader, and the committee on force application. Together they scrutinize the use of force using the national framework. This framework has not been made public. Subsequently, the police chief articulates an assessment on the application of force in question. In 2020, 236 of 27.271 applications of force was deemed to be ‘unprofessional.’ In 2021, this was the case in 231 of 30.046 applications. In 2021, 266 of the 33.584 instances of use of force were deemed to be 'unprofessional'. The assessments themselves are not made available the general public.

Should there be reasonable suspicion of dereliction of duty, Police initiate a disciplinary investigation. The investigation is conducted by the internal VIK-department. Officers may then receive a sanction, such as a reprimand or a (temporary) transfer. In 2020, a total of six officers received a disciplinary punishment in relation to a report on the use of force. In 2021, 13 officers received a disciplinary punishment in relation to a report on the use of force. In 2022, despite the growing amount of use of force, it dropped to 10 displinairy punishments.

Should there be reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence, a criminal investigation is initiated. This investigation is conducted by officers and / or by the National Criminal Investigation Department, who report to the Public Prosecution Service (‘OM’). The OM subsequently decides whether officers will be brought to trial. Should the OM decide this, a judge ultimately rules on the application of force. In 2020, the OM conducted 260 criminal investigations following an application of force by police.

Border police and BOA’s

We don't know of a clear decision framework outlining how uses of force by border police and BOA’s are judged internally. Do you have one? Please send it to us!

How many officers are brought to trial?

Neither courts nor the public prosecution service (OM) publish information on the number of officers persecuted for using force. In 2020, we looked into the number of reports against police offers and how they were handled. We conducted this investigation in the four big cities (Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht), as well as in Almere, Arnhem, Amersfoort, Eindhoven, Haarlem, Heerenveen, Leiden, Maastricht, Roermond, Schieden and Veenendaal.

We found that between 2016 and 2019, 722 civilians filed reports on excessive force or discrimination by officers. Less than 1% of these reports eventually resulted in prosecution. All other cases were dismissed by the OM. It remains unknown how many of these were conditional dismissals, and what conditions were being imposed. A grand total of four officers were fined for their use of force. Not a single officer has been prosecuted for discrimination.

What can we do against disproportionate use of force?