Policing the police: A slow process

Huge delays in prosecuting officers on charges of corruption have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Internal Affairs Department of the Greek Police, according to a report on the body heard on Tuesday by the parliamentary Institutional and Transparency Committee. Of the 300 prosecutions pending, only six officers have been convicted in the past two and a half years, raising questions over why the directorate’s investigation finds vindication in so few cases. In presenting their annual report to the parliamentary committee on the police watchdog’s achievements, the head of the Internal Affairs directorate, police chief Vassilis Tsiatouras, noted that since 1999, 180 cases, due to rise to 200, have been brought against police officers. Of these, 25 percent are felony charges, in which 48 higher-ranking, 52 lower-ranking and 49 low-ranking police officers were involved. Two factors have caused concern: First, that corruption flourishes at all levels, but chiefly at the top, and secondly, that delays in trying cases have negated their effectiveness and their usefulness in setting an example. Only eight of the cases, which were tried immediately, have been settled in the two and a half years of the directorate’s existence, six officers have been convicted and two cleared. Prosecutors are appealing in two of the cases. As for the rest, which are taking the normal course through judicial channels, Tsiatouras frankly admitted that none have reached the trial stage yet. He added that there is no obligation for anyone to inform the watchdog of progress in the legal cases. «Can these cases be tried in six months?» was his rhetorical reply to New Democracy deputy Anna Psarouda Benaki when she asked what Internal Affairs would like of the State. And he added, «Otherwise, when the trials of evidently corrupt police officers are delayed, the witnesses change their stories and the cases collapse.» An important factor in the Internal Affairs Department’s effectiveness was that last year, as compared to 2000, the number of accusations of corruption against police officers dropped, while in contrast, the number of officers arrested for other offenses has almost doubled, said Tsiatouras. The Internal Affairs head was also asked by PASOK deputy Foivos Ioannidis whether he was not troubled by the fact that corruption was so prevalent among officers of higher rank, while Yiannis Yiannakopoulos asked him if economic incentives lay behind the illegal acts. And while Tsiatouras admitted that the lack of concrete results may have discouraged people from making complaints, he also felt that their reduction was due to fewer malicious and unfounded accusations being made. Sharp words Sharp words were exchanged between the police chief and Yiannakopoulos. On being asked by the latter whether he felt that corruption had been eradicated from the Greek Police, Tsiatouras replied, «Not 100 percent.» In reply to the MP’s comment that «most (offenses) remain hidden,» the police chief insisted: «We are aware of most offenses. There is no possibility of a cover-up given the department’s structure and organization, while the appellate prosecutor in charge is kept informed of every development.» «I wouldn’t rest content with the drop in accusations,» Yiannakopoulos said. «Try going at night to Zinonos Street. What do I care whether or not the officer is in cahoots with those people (drug dealers) when he is sitting in a cafe while on duty?» Tsiatouras replied, «Now you’re asking why we don’t arrest all criminals. Indifference is not corruption, and besides, we are monitoring the police force’s effectiveness in central Athens.» To a question by Left Coalition deputy Fotis Kouvelis, he named passport control checkpoints, vice, nightclub and immigration squads as the most prone to corruption. Revealingly, graft in Attica equals that of the rest of the country put together. The report also noted that about 15 civil servants were involved along with the police officers charged. Tsiatouras pointed to prefectures as hotbeds of corruption.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.