In light of protests in the US, Lithuanian police say they are much more restricted in the use of force than their American peers.
A Vilnius rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this month featured a strongly-worded poster against the police. Dainius Daukantas, officer of Vilnius County Police who was there during the rally, believes it does not reflect the general sentiment in the country.
“I personally heard people in the crowd chanting ‘thank you’ to the police four or so times,” he told LRT RADIO.
A surveys by Vilmorus from last February showed that 68.4 percent of the Lithuanian public trusted the police, the eighth-highest rate in the European Union.
According to Saulius Grigonis, the president of the Lithuanian police union, the rules of when police officers can use firearms and force are very different in the US and Lithuania.
“Over here […] the use of force is an extreme measure, especially when it comes to using guns,” he told LRT RADIO.
Disciplinary procedures over the use of firearms are very strict on police officers, he said, leading to fear of using guns even in legitimate situations.
According to Daukantas, Lithuania’s police conduct several investigations into suspected overuse of force every year. Most of them are decided in police officers’ favour, he said, even though there have been cases of protracted court battles.
In one case from December 2016, three officers from Klaipėda, in western Lithuania, detained an intoxicated man in a casino and brought him to a police station. They put handcuffs on and tied them to a door with a rope. The man, who kept kicking the door and straining the rope, stayed tied with his arms raised up for almost an hour.
A lower court ruled that the man suffered mild injuries and was humiliated by the police officers’ actions. However, the ruling was appealed and Lithuania’s Supreme Court eventually decided in the police officers’ favour.
According to Grigonis, Lithuanian police officers rarely remain undisciplined after breaking rules because stations where detainees are kept are under constant video surveillance.
“There are many instances of the use of force and they are resolved rather quickly,” he said.
However, when it comes to using weapons, the procedures are rather more complex.
“Imagine a situation: in order to use a gun, an officer has one second to think and evaluate his skill, the situation, the danger. Then year-long procedures follow when his every move is scrutinised for any missteps,” Grigonis told LRT RADIO.
The anti-police poster at the Black Lives Matter, which said “F**uck the Police” in English, is currently under investigation as public profanity, an offence according to the country’s laws.