Police officers oppose shifting guard units

A presidential decree permitting transfers of border guards and special guards has raised fierce objections within the police force. These have highlighted one of the numerous problems to have arisen since the establishment of these special corps, which were set up in 1990 for several purposes. At the time the country was experiencing its first sudden influx of mass immigration, crime was on the rise and being linked to the new immigrants, leading to outbreaks of xenophobia and racism. In Attica, new needs were constantly arising for guarding infrastructure and potential terrorist targets. As police were now being recruited by means of nationwide exams, there was no way to recruit large numbers of new officers in a short period of time. Creating these two new corps also served partisan purposes by the recruitment of officers through the back door. In 1998 the Border Guards Corps was founded, initially recruiting officers for a five-year stint of service, for the purpose of preventing the entry of illegal immigrants into Greece and to apprehend illegal immigrant workers already here. In 1999, the Special Forces Corps was set up for the sole purpose of «guarding vulnerable targets of interest to the police,» and aimed at freeing police officers from bodyguard duty for crimefighting purposes. These two corps did not evolve as was set out in the legislation. The rule of «nothing more permanent than the temporary» was once more confirmed. The border guards organized a union and began to indulge in that ever-popular Greek custom: demanding permanent tenure. This was eventually granted, although the adoption of a modern immigration policy was supposed to remove the need for such a force. Meanwhile the special guards were given the additional task of guarding and transporting prisoners and guarding police stations and jails. The initial idea of having them guard «vulnerable targets» was not apparently carried out. The numbers speak for themselves. At the moment there are 2,238 special guards, of which 1,678 belong to the Attica General Security Department. About 6,000 police officers in Attica are involved in guarding buildings and individuals. They were never replaced in these duties by special guards. In fact, special guards are still being used to fill gaps in other services such as foot patrols and office work. As for the border guards, 500 of the total of 4,616 are posted in Attica. Police officers say these corps are «cheap and slapdash» units. Border guards are trained for four months and special guards for three months before assuming their duties. Wages are low but they have the opportunity of working their way up through the ranks. Cases where special guards have committed suicide or been arrested for drug use have led senior officers to make inquiries and call in psychologists. The presidential decree that allows for personnel transfers was the result of pressure on the part of the members of the corps after these incidents. At the same time, the decree is seen as merely furthering other partisan goals and not fulfilling any general policy. Most officers are interested in transferring from Attica to provincial towns, even though Attica is where most crimes are committed and the greatest staff shortages exist. Policy over the past few years regarding these two corps has been shortsighted, mainly serving temporary needs. It has laid the foundations for even greater problems than those the corps were supposed to solve, and it has been perceived as simply serving clientelist relations. No one wants to assume the political cost of abolishing the corps or of upgrading them by means of a selection process using objective criteria to keep the more capable staff on board and make them more effective. Vague promises are being made that simply cultivate hopes that these men will be fully incorporated into the regular Greek police force. That would mean doing away with entry (into the force) by means of nationwide exams, which has proved to be both a meritocratic way of recruiting police officers and has raised standards. It would also lead to a climate of civil war within the security forces.

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