New breed of policemen

In the wake of a rise in crime following last year’s Olympic Games and as part of an effort to modernize Greece’s policing methods, the public order minister yesterday unveiled a pilot program to introduce community police officers on the streets of Thessaloniki. Giorgos Voulgarakis said this totally new force would be created and tested in the northern Greek city before the government decides whether the post can be made permanent and other community officers introduced to other forces around the country. Apart from providing a more direct form of contact between the police and citizens, the role of the officers will be to deal with the more mundane day-to-day matters affecting people in their area and to provide help on the ground in preliminary police investigations. Perhaps most significantly of all, Voulgarakis hopes the officers will establish a police presence on the streets in areas where law enforcement authorities are absent. During the pilot scheme, the community officers will be placed in 14 of the 16 municipalities in the areas of Thessaloniki which no longer have police stations. The motto of the scheme is «No municipality, no community without a permanent police presence.» The issue of having police officers patrolling the streets has gained greater urgency in recent weeks after it became evident there had been a surge in crime since last year’s heavily policed Olympics. Police figures show that robberies, thefts and break-ins in July shot up by more than 20 percent, while car theft increased by 7 percent compared to statistics for the same month in 2004. Central Athens was hardest hit by the rise. The lack of visible policing was identified as a key factor contributing to this increase, and Voulgarakis is thought to have told police chiefs last month to free up more officers from desk duty and get them patrolling the streets, particularly in crime hot spots. The minister also unveiled yesterday the creation of two regional police headquarters in Thessaloniki as well as 12 new police stations. New departments to combat drug dealing and human trafficking will also be created, along with one that will protect witnesses. Voulgarakis said the changes taking place in the Thessaloniki force would serve as a «security road map» for the rest of the Balkans.