OPINION

Professionalism

The successful outcome of the bus hijacking which ended with all the hostages released unharmed must surely be credited to the Greek police; it was, by all accounts, an encouraging sign of organizational and operational maturity. Some of the praise should, of course, go to the political leadership, even though in such emergency situations most of the responsibility no doubt falls on the shoulders of experts, not officials. The latter are mainly asked to let the former do their job undistracted. That is, unless a politician is expected to give the go-ahead for a potentially bloody operation. Luckily, it made no such decision this time. And the positive conclusion – for which a bit of luck is always necessary (one can never be sure that a gunman will not shoot) – underscored the professionalism of the police mobilization, an element that was sorely lacking in similar hostage crises in the past. The police were effective in clearing the site and (with some exceptions) in restricting the role of the media – some of which had unraveled police plans in the past. The coordinated response was reflected in the use of specially trained negotiators and the close implementation of their advice. The police showed patience and chose the path of painstaking negotiations without yielding to the temptation of forceful action or of improvised mediation by some top official like the well-intentioned but eventually fatal police initiative in the 1998 Niovis Street fiasco. The synchronized and cool-headed response by the Greek police seems to vindicate optimism that the force have entered a new era marked by more professionalism in dealing with emergency situations. This fact is not enough to justify the mammoth sums of money that were spent on security during the summer Olympics (in fact, many security experts voiced skepticism over the security costs). Nor does the happy end to Wednesday’s bus hijacking mean that all is well with police patrols in Greece. Deficiencies and exaggerations (highlighted in the recent Ombudsman report) need time and effort to be overcome. However, one can be optimistic that we are on the right path – and for this reason demand that police officers are rid of non-policing jobs so that they can meet their crime-fighting responsibilities.