Ten questions and answers give a profile of police force readiness

A senior police officer cited the myth of Sisyphus when Kathimerini asked him to comment on the June 9 incident when shots were fired at the entrance to Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s residence. «We feel like Sisyphus, pushing a rock – the public’s sense of security – to a mountain peak, and just before we get there something happens and the rock hurtles back to the base, and so we begin all over again.» Such incidents shake the public’s sense of security and raise questions about police readiness and effectiveness. Police officials themselves concede that the force is not perfect, but object to suggestions that the country is unguarded, and speak of a major effort at reorganization to increase police effectiveness. They say the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens present a first-rate opportunity to modernize the force at all levels. The following questions and answers sketch a profile of the Greek police force (ELAS). 1.How many officers serve in ELAS? ELAS employs more than 51,000 people, of whom 45,000 are police officers and the remainder belong to two new corps: the special guards, and border guards. These corps were established in 1998 for the purpose of carrying out special police missions. 2. Are there in-service training programs for police officers? There is a provision for ongoing training, but there is a shortage of the simulators that help train officers to deal with various types of criminal activities. Currently ELAS has nine simulators, and is in the final stages of procuring another 12. Each police directorate is supposed to have a simulator for training purposes. A large number of senior officers train abroad, mainly in the USA, Britain and Germany. 3. Are the police issued with proper protective gear, communications equipment and weapons? There is a significant delay in updating the police revolvers, which are old, outdated and clumsy. In fact, many officers pay for another weapon out of their own pockets because they believe the service issue weapons are totally unsuitable. About a year ago, a tender was announced for the procurement of 34,000 new revolvers. There was some problem with the procedure, and the tender was annulled and announced again. So there has been a considerable delay. As for protective gear, the delivery of 10,000 bulletproof vests is expected any day now, and ELAS will receive another 10,000 by the end of the year. It is estimated that by the end of 2003, two thirds of the force will have bulletproof vests. Communications equipment is considered to be adequate and is constantly updated. 4. What is the state of means of transport? ELAS’s largest supply program has been in progress for the past three years, and the fleet has been updated significantly. The average age of police vehicles has dropped to five years from the 18 years it was a few years ago. 5. Are the Special Guards adequately trained? The Special Guards undergo three months of training before they go into active service. But according to appointment procedures, the vast majority of them come from special army units where they have already been through a demanding training program. 6. What was the purpose of setting up the corps and what are its duties? The Special Guards Corps was set up to relieve the police of extraneous duties, mainly guarding buildings. Until recently all sentries were police officers; now they have been replaced by Special Guards. Some of them have been put on foot patrols. But since the Special Guards cannot make arrests, the patrols are usually mixed and include police officers. And the possibility of allocating further duties to the Special Guards is under examination. 7. What is the Border Guards Corps? This is also a new corps. It was set up to guard the nation’s borders more effectively. After the changes that came about in the early 1990s in Eastern Europe, the situation on the Greek borders changed greatly, with a massive influx of migrants and an upsurge in crime, often of extreme kinds. The police presence was insufficient. It was deemed necessary to create a a special corps whose constant presence would ensure safe passage for residents of border areas, and, at the same time, stamp out illegal immigration and crime. 8. How are cases of arbitrary behavior and the abuse of power by police officers dealt with? In every case, the political and administrative leadership of ELAS makes it clear that such cases are not acceptable and are punished with particular severity. Within the police force itself there is a department called the Internal Affairs Bureau which deals with these matters. At the same time, police academies have now introduced lessons on human rights and the need to respect and protect them. Besides, compared with other countries, Greece has few such cases. 9. To what extent does favoritism mark relations within the police force? ELAS officials themselves admit that favoritism exists and is hard to eradicate. But, in recent years, there has been more promotion on merit throughout the entire hierarchy of the force. Another step which is considered to be very important in eliminating this problem is entrance to police academies via the Panhellenic Examinations. This means that, apart from having a better background, new police officers also have a different mentality, since they know they were chosen for their qualifications. 10.Why do the police pass with flying colors when it comes to guarding notables and events (the visits of former US President Bill Clinton and, the pope and the World Athletics Championship), but cannot cope with minor incidents and are tricked by petty criminals? The Greek police force has the experience, the training and the staff to plan and effectively implement any security program. But it has not entered the consciousness of the average police officer that crime has changed, is more unpredictable and represents different threats. That’s why the police seem surprised by such incidents.