The National Commissioner of the Police has extended a Hungary-wide heightened state of alert by five months until the end of June, reports 444.hu. A nationwide heightened state of alert, which allows police to conduct identity checks and physical searches of people’s clothing and vehicles without probable cause, has been in effect since September 2015.
When the National Commissioner of the Police announced the first heightened state of alert at the peak of the immigration crisis in September 2015, it was initially ordered for two weeks. Then it was extended for another month, then for two months, then for four months.
The latest extension marks the first time a heightened state of alert throughout the country has been ordered for five months. Pre-2015, both their time and scope were always limited.
The leader of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) policing program, Dávid Vig, says identity checks always have to be proportionate. “This is a requirement because an identity check by the police and the accompanying search of one’s clothes or car is a serious invasion of people’s privacy,” Vig told 444.hu. Therefore, the law normally guarantees that the police cannot stop and search anyone anywhere without good reason. However, during times of heightened police alert, such as that since September 2015, police have the right to randomly stop anyone and ask for their identification and search them in the entire territory of Hungary.
Vig argues that by extending the scope to the whole country, the police have expanded the interpretation of the law nearly to the point of abuse. He points out that, according to the law, a heightened state of alert can be ordered “in a specific public place or in a designated area of public place.” Vig also notes that the police’s conduct affords more opportunity for profiling, especially racial profiling of ethnic minorities. One HHC client filed a complaint because the police allegedly checked him for no other reason than he looked to be a Roma (gypsy).
Based on the police’s official statistics, Hungarian officers do not hesitate when it comes to identity checks. During the first ten months of last year, they conducted more than one million. In the same year in the United Kingdom, with a population more than six times that of Hungary, police carried out 305,000.
444.hu contacted the Hungarian police to find out the real reason behind the ongoing state of alert and whether the police considers its conduct compatible with the spirit of the law. The news site also questioned the results of the heightened state of alert and plans for upholding it.
In its two-sentence answer, the National Police Headquarters stated that “with the heightened state of alert, the police can prevent, detect and interrupt acts violating the law.” The police also cited the police law that describes in detail when, how and whom police officers can check and search.
The response said nothing about how the police interpret the law or the reason for the two-and-a-half-year heightened state of alert.