Get police back on the streets

After the deadly four-car pileup on a notoriously dangerous stretch of road in the Alamana region in central Greece on July 9, we stressed that the rising death toll on the national road network is also a result of the relative absence of traffic police officers along the highways. The absence of traffic police has been conspicuous, not only along Greece’s highway network but also throughout the streets of the broader Athens region. Police patrols in Attica’s neighborhoods have all but disappeared. Now, a month after the gory accident, Greek police have acknowledged the drop in officer patrols in the streets of the capital. In fact, police officials link the absence of patrols to the steep rise in criminality rates recorded in the previous month. Police statistics show that robberies, thefts and break-ins in July were 20 percent higher than in the same month last year. What changed? Last July, as the country was in the final stretch before the Olympic Games, police patrols in the Attica region were more intense than ever before. Police officers were everywhere to be seen in the city. The capital’s entire police force was mobilized while hundreds of other officers were called in from the provinces. Intense physical presence enhanced security during the Games and, at the same time, brought about a dramatic decline in ordinary crime, underscoring the benefits of preventive action. The precipitous rise in crime is unnerving. It is not just that there are no reinforcements from the countryside or that there has been no recall on summer leaves. The police force has actually reduced city patrols to below pre-Olympic levels, either because authorities deem that security cameras can act as a substitute for physical presence or because the restructuring of police stations has taken officers away from patrols which now only take place in theory. The statistics are sounding the alarm. When police officers go, the city is defenseless. They must be constantly present and visible, a guardian of the people. Withdrawing officers from the streets, making them sit in offices or serve as bodyguards for well-known figures only increases people’s exposure to crime.

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