Greece’s police force getting too bogged down by ‘non-police’ jobs to fight crime

Serving judicial summonses, monitoring traffic, building and health code violations, measuring sound pollution and policing nightclub opening hours are all duties assigned to some 1,800 officers in the Greek Police (ELAS) in addition to their crime-fighting responsibilities, when either there were no other appropriate institutions or because the police were considered the most suitable service for the job. However, these tasks are now seen as an obstacle to the force’s ability to carry out its own job of fighting crime and protecting the populace. As Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said recently with regard to the plan to restructure police services, the force has been burdened with «non-police» jobs that prevent it from fulfilling its true mission. According to Attica General Police Department statistics, the four tasks that take up the most manpower in activities not directly related to police work are: Serving judicial summonses: During 2003, a total of 336,520 of these were distributed to police stations in Attica, to be delivered by officers using patrol cars. A few years ago, a decision was made to transfer responsibility for this task to the Justice Ministry, where 2,500 staff members were hired for the task. However, the job remains in the hands of the police. Building code violations: Over the past year, 4,695 suits were lodged and 1,054 charges pressed for violations of the building code. In certain areas, such as eastern Attica, where a large number of these suits are lodged, no other police work can be done. One officer said that even if eastern Attica’s police stations were staffed with another 500 officers, there still wouldn’t be enough men for fighting crime. «Station chiefs give priority to sending out officers to check on building code violations because if they don’t they are at risk of administrative or penal sanctions,» he said. Health code infringements: Within 2003, 15,551 suits were lodged regarding health code violations and 2,205 charges pressed. The same officer said that in order to record these infringements, four times the number of inspections have been made since, statistically speaking, an infringement is found in one out of four establishments inspected. Sound pollution from nightclubs. Last year there were 13,623 suits and 1,600 charges pressed. In Attica alone, these four activities occupy the time of 1,800 officers using some 300 vehicles. The graph shows how these forces could be used. It is clear that freeing these 1,800 officers could solve the problem of staffing neighborhood police patrols. According to an ELAS officer, a much larger number of officers is actually employed in this way, as the entire procedure of suits and arrests requires the escorting and transport of those charged and a great amount of bureaucracy. Law 2647/1998 provided, for the first time, for the transfer of a number of these tasks to the Municipal Police, including maintaining order, health regulations in stores, the operation of theaters, cinemas, games halls, motorbike rentals, parking, men-at-work signs on roads, traffic monitoring, vehicle emissions, building code, nightclub opening hours, mobile canteens, tourism enterprises, the siting of building material and equipment, the protection of caves, fishing on inland waters, the siting of nomad group settlements, squatting on public land, street markets, issuing certificates of residence and the checking of hotel room prices in areas not covered by the Greek National Tourism Organization. However the law has not been implemented since it requires the issuance of a number of presidential decrees. The more recent Law 3247/2004 gives the Municipal Police the following authorities: keeping the city clean, traffic, construction, water and sewerage, noise pollution, sea pollution from land sources, protection of water resources, environmental protection, street vendors and canteens, order, parking of vehicles, roadwork signs, siting of building materials and equipment, squatting on public land and issuing certificates of residence. The other authorities remain under the jurisdiction of ELAS and can be transferred to the Municipal Police by decision of the relevant regional director following a proposal by a municipal council and the recommendation of the prefectural police director. Last Tuesday, Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis and Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis signed a memorandum of cooperation that proposes an exchange of information between ELAS and the Municipal Police. They will also work together to target petty crime and to police major cultural events, train stations and areas where there are street traders or open-air markets. Under the pilot scheme, which could be extended to other cities, municipal officers will be trained in various policing methods.