Danish police data error may have caused wrong convictions

An error in a programme used by police to register telephone records may have resulted in incorrect convictions or hindered investigations.

Danish police data error may have caused wrong convictions
Police headquarters in Copenhagen. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe / Ritzau Scanpix

The programme at fault was used to streamline and structure telephone data to make it accessible, and affects cases stretching over a seven-year timespan.

“When we speak about telephone information, we mean historical information on individual telephones, but also broader telephone information [regarding, for example, who was in a location at a certain time, ed.]. Both areas can be affected by this error,” said Torben Mølgaard Jensen, chief superintendent with the National Police (Rigspolitiet).

The issue was caused by the programming removing data it should have retained.

Police are able to pull data from telephone companies in connection with investigations of crimes, enabling them to see which telephones were registered by certain phone masts at specified times.

But the faulty programme may have deleted numbers from data pulled by police.

“We now have to check cases from 2012 to 2019, and these may be cases which are unsolved, and data may become available which wasn’t there before,” Jensen said.

“But there may also be cases in which convictions have been made, or where a complaint was made but no charge brought,” he continued.

The issue could, in a worst-case scenario, have led to wrong convictions, lawyer Kristian Mølgaard, who is chairperson of the National Society of Defence Lawyers (Landsforeningen af Forsvarsadvokater), told Ritzau.

“If there is missing data, that could mean a missing GPS location. And that GPS location could potentially be crucial,” Mølgaard said.

Both police and state prosecution authorities will now review potentially affected cases from 2012-2019, Jensen confirmed.

Up to 10,000 cases must be reviewed, the chief superintendent said.

“Until we have been through them all, we cannot say anything about how many contain errors, or how many errors influence (the case),” he said.

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Denmark says 450 extra police officers will strengthen response to rape, assault and break-ins

Victims of violence and rape in Denmark are Monday today guaranteed police offers will be dispatched to assist if they need acute help.

A file photo of a police motorcycle. A new Danish police guarantee requires officers to be dispatched to attend all reports of assault and rape as well as locations of break-ins.
A file photo of a police motorcycle. A new Danish police guarantee requires officers to be dispatched to attend all reports of assault and rape as well as locations of break-ins. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Police are also now required to attend addresses within 24 hours after reports of a break-in.

The new standards are included in a new “police guarantee” confirmed by the Ministry of Justice in a statement. The guarantee was included in the police funding bill voted through by parliament in December 2020.

Justice minister Nick Hækkerup said that police can meet that guarantee, pointing to the provision in the police bill to add 450 officers to Denmark’s police forces during the course of 2021, 2022 and 2023.

But the trade union for the police, Politiforbundet, says that the total police force must be increased by 5,000 officers if the guarantee is to be lived up to.

“I am completely confident in relation to the extra resources which will be added to the police in coming years being enough to fulfil the guarantee,” Hækkerup said.

“I want to see their calculations,” the minister said in relation to the police union’s number.

“That is equivalent to us needing to increase our police staffing by 50 percent to be able to meet the guarantee we have set,” he added.

The police union has also criticised the guarantee because they see it could result in other tasks being delayed.

“Then there wouldn’t be enough resources for tasks like domestic incidents, traffic accidents and mentally ill member of the public,” the union’s leader Heino Kegel said.

Hækkerup rejected the suggestion resources would be pulled away from other areas.

“It’s not as if this is a completely new task. It’s a task we already undertake,” he said.

READ ALSO: Copenhagen police to ban people with criminal records from nightlife areas