Dim future for neighborhood police patrols

The institution of «neighborhood police» introduced a few years ago has not only not been expanded as initially planned, but appears to be collapsing. Although young police officers have gone out with special guards to boost foot patrols, the leadership of the former Public Order Ministry (now part of the Interior Ministry) appears unwilling to do anything to salvage the institution. Neighborhood police were introduced at 35 police stations in Attica and at another 21 police stations around the country. On paper, every police station is supposed to have an average of two officers on neighborhood patrol duty. In most cases there is only one available. The idea of community policing appears to have been abandoned. In June 2003, «Neighborhood Police Officer» was introduced as a pilot program that has lasted for four years. In fact, according to police station chiefs, it only really operated until the Olympic Games, and was abandoned completely after police stations began issuing passports. Neighborhood patrols were introduced at nine police stations in Attica (103 districts), seven in northeastern Attica, western Attica and Piraeus, five in southeastern Attica and two in Thessaloniki. Initially, there were 400 officers who were given training in their new duties. During the Olympics, the program worked in general, but then cuts began to be made. Transfers, holidays and other needs all took their toll. «I don’t even have enough officers to man ordinary shifts and guard duty,» said one police station chief. «I have only one person left for the job, but on his own he can’t really offer anything.» The development of the neighborhood patrol system recalls other attempts in the past (such as foot patrols and the «Pegasus» traffic patrols) that were abandoned after subsequent leadership changes in the Greek Police (ELAS). Now, with petty crime at a peak, particularly in central city districts, one gets the impression that only patrol cars and immediate-response motorcycle police officers are policing central Athens, since the police stations cannot respond adequately due to staff shortages. The problem is expected to worsen as more officers retire. According to official statistics from the ELAS human resources department, the number of retirees has more than doubled since the debate began on changes to the social security system. The police officers’ union believes that over the next three years about 15,000 officers will leave the force.