Law enforcement in Belgium

Law enforcement in Belgium is conducted by an integrated police service structured on the federal and local levels, made up of the Federal Police and the Local Police. Both forces are autonomous and subordinate to different authorities, but linked in regard to reciprocal support, recruitment, manpower mobility and common training.[1]

In 2001, the Belgian police underwent a fundamental structural reform that created this completely new police system. A Belgian parliamentary report into a series of pedophile murders accused the police of negligence, amateurism and incompetence in investigating the cases. The loss of public confidence in the police was so great that the whole population deemed the reform indispensable.[2]

The three former police forces, the municipal police, the national law enforcement service (Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie) and the judicial police (assigned to the offices of the public prosecutors) gave way to an integrated police service structured on two levels.[3]

Federal Police

The federal police (Dutch: Federale Politie; French: Police Fédérale; German: Föderale Polizei) is in charge of both specialized and supralocal law enforcement operations and specialized criminal investigation operations. The force is also tasked with delivering support to the local police forces. The federal police consists of approximately 12,300 personnel members (civilian and operational staff).

The federal police is led by a general commissioner, a senior officer who holds the rank of chief superintendent. He or she heads the general commissioner's office. This office is responsible for management, strategy and policy of the federal police; ensuring the functioning of the integrated police (by coordinating with local police forces); coordinating and supporting the federal police units; internal and external communication and international cooperation. It is composed of the:

The directorate of international police cooperation (CGI) within this office is Belgium’s national central bureau for the European Police Office (Europol), Schengen Information System and International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).

Falling under the authority of the General Commissioner's Office, are two operational and one non-operational general directorates:

Local Police

An older police car from Antwerp

The local police (Dutch: Lokale Politie; French: Police Locale; German: Lokale Polizei) is made up of 196 police forces constituted from the former communal and gendarmerie brigades. 50 police forces cover the territory of one municipality (one-city zone) and 146 cover more than one municipality (multi-city zone).[4] The local police can be compared to municipal police forces.

Each local police chief is responsible for the execution of local law enforcement policy and ensures the management, organization and distribution of missions in the local police force. She or he works under the authority of the mayor in one-city zones, or under a police board composed of all the mayors from the different municipalities in a multi-city police zone.

Its philosophy envisions a global and integrated approach to security based on maximum visibility focusing police activities on a limited area, which should optimize contact between the police and the population. It aims to restore public confidence in the police force and of improve the objective and subjective feeling of security in communities.


Each police force consists of an operational cadre of police and auxiliary police plus civilian personnel for administrative and logistic work. At the moment, approx. 33,000 local police and 900 civilians work in the 196 regional police forces.

The numerical strength of the police is determined by the police board for multi-city zones or by the town council for one-city zones, which must match the minimal standards set by law. Also a Permanent Commission for the Local Police represents all local police services at national level and provides advice on all problems relating to the local police.


To guarantee a minimum service to the population, Belgian law provides six basic functions for the local police: Community policing, responsiveness, intervention, victim support, local criminal investigation and maintaining public order.

Police Ranks

The Federal Police doesn't have a hierarchical relationship with the Local Police. Instead, there is a functional connection between the two entities. Both the Federal and the Local Police are built up hierarchically, with the same ranks.

The rank insignia are rectangular plates that are worn on the left pocket flap of the uniform shirt, fleece, sweater, jacket, coat and/or bulletproof vest. On the right side pocket flap, a similar plate is worn, displaying the officer's name and a separating line with underneath the name of the force and/or unit the officer belongs to. In some cases (mostly commissioned officers) the function is displayed (e.g. "Commissioner-General). Both plates have stylized lines on the outer corners depicting the force to which the police operative belongs. The lines are orange/red for the Federal Police, light blue for Local Police, and silver or gold for personnel of the General Inspection (depending on the rank of the personnel member).

The color of the rank insignia and the officer's name, function/unit/force depends on the cadre the officer belongs to. Silver insignia and letters are used for all auxiliary, base and middle ranks (up to Chief Inspector), gold is used for all officer ranks.

Cadre Rank Rank insignia Federal Police Rank insignia Local Police
Officer level

(commissioned officers)

Chief Commissioner - Hoofdcommissaris - Commissaire Divisionnaire
Commissioner - Commissaris - Commissaire
Candidate Commissioner - Aspirant-Commissaris - Aspirant-Commissaire

(non-commissioned officers)

Chief Inspector - Hoofdinspecteur - Inspecteur Principal

equal to sergeant

Candidate Chief Inspector - Aspirant-Hoofdinspecteur - Aspirant-Inspecteur Principal


Inspector - Inspecteur - Inspecteur

base rank; full powers; equal to constable or officer

Candidate Inspector - Aspirant-Inspecteur - Aspirant-Inspecteur
Auxiliary level (Auxiliary) Officer - Agent - Agent

only limited powers; not to be confused with constable or officer; formerly known as "auxiliary officer"

Candidate (Auxiliary) Officer - Aspirant-Agent - Aspirant-Agent

Rank markings on helmets

When performing public order maintenance operations (e.g. demonstrations and riots), police personnel wear a helmet in situations with increased risk of violence. The helmets are white because that colour is easier to spot by cameras and police helicopters. The helmet is plain white for inspectors (rank equivalent to police officer/constable) who function as section members during public order operations. Chief-inspectors (who function as section chiefs) wear white helmets with one blue stripe running from back to front. Commissioners and chief-commissioners (who function as platoon commanders or even squadron commanders and group commanders) have two blue stripes.


Some officers, often belonging to intervention units (patrol units), only wear the rank plate and not the name plate on their uniform whilst on duty. This is to prevent malevolent persons from identifying and subsequently threatening or harassing them as a revenge for being subject of police operations. This is more common in urban areas than in rural (calmer) areas.

See also



Wikimedia Atlas of Belgium


  1. "Policing Profiles of Participating and Partner States". OSCE. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
  2. "Belgium to reform police". 1998-05-24. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
  3. "The integrated police: who does what?". Police Fédérale. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
  4. "Policing Profiles of Participating and Partner States; Local Police". Retrieved 2009-03-16.
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