NEWS

Lack of police on streets prompts rethink

Protecting sensitive targets, such as the US Embassy and the prime minister’s residence, while maintaining law and order at soccer matches and demonstrations absorbs nearly all Greek police resources. On days when demonstrations and sport events coincide, the police force is stretched to its limits with few officers available to police Athenian neighborhoods. Last year’s figures are indicative of the current state of affairs: 62,000 police officers were deployed at 1,986 sports events and 83,000 police officers were used to maintain law and order during the 730 protest marches in the capital. In the same period, crime soared to reach peak levels at the beginning of 2008. In January alone, thefts, burglaries and robberies increased by 30 percent compared to the same period the previous year and in certain districts the rise in the crime rate was even higher. There are plans to increase the number of police officers and fleet of vehicles as well as foot patrols in certain areas. The task of policing crime-ridden areas falls on an understaffed force that is often overburdened with other activities that have little relevance to police work. There are 3,000 vacant positions at the Attica General Police Department (GADA) and crucial services lack police officers to perform the necessary duties. A large number of officers police the occasionally turbulent Exarchia district in Athens, and additional Athenian police officers had to be sent to Crete following the recent events at Zoniana. The seven officers assigned as bodyguards to the late Archbishop Christodoulos never returned to their posts after his death, while another six officers were assigned as bodyguards for newly appointed Archbishop Ieronymos. There are only 27 officers at the Nea Smyrni police station, just enough to meet basic operational requirements but not to patrol and police the district. During the night shift, the service is extremely limited. Throughout the 24-hour day, half the officers deal with the necessary paperwork (identity cards, certification and other documentation requests), while the other half perform regular duties, such as tracking penalty evaders, escorting criminals to court, granting permits for weapons, checking store permits and guarding the residences of prosecutors. However, even if more officers were made available for patrols, they would be expected to oversee a much larger area.