Averting violence is the job of the police

In an interview with Skai Radio on Monday, Deputy Health Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos raged against «social hypocrisy.» Where were all those who now blame the government for a non-existent welfare policy when a 57-year-old man was murdered by his 19-year-old son in Nikaia, he exclaimed? Why didn’t they call the relevant social services to report the problems the family had been facing, the problems that led to the tragic incident? The national social services did not receive any complaints, the minister said, noting that no one had taken any initiative to call the 197 Direct Social Aid telephone line, which is free. Constantopoulos is probably right. Evidently no one called this magic number (whose existence has hardly been well publicized) to summon the social services and possibly avert last week’s tragedy. But this is only half of the truth. According to news reports, several neighbors contacted the Nikaia police station to report the violent outbursts of the 57-year-old but, evidently, the police claimed to be unable to intervene – a classic case of buck passing and the shirking of responsibility. It appears that the residents of Nikaia did not call the telephone line – set up to help vulnerable social groups, such as battered women and abused children – because they were not aware of its existence. But surely the police who received the residents’ complaints knew of this service. And if they did not know, why didn’t they forward the matter to the relevant department of the Health Ministry or direct the neighbors to contact this department? Surely it is the responsibility of the police to take action. Following two family tragedies – in Volos earlier this month and in Nikaia last week – Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras asked Greece’s Police Chief Anastassios Dimoschakis to send a circular to all police stations with direct instructions to intervene in situations where there is serious domestic violence. But isn’t this a paradox? Should the minister really need to intervene personally and give orders to the chief of police to instruct his subordinates to do their job? The only thing these circulars will achieve is to contribute to the existing mountain of bureaucracy and ensure that no action is taken. One can only imagine how many such circulars are sent daily to police stations and how many of these are ignored. All countries have a three-digit emergency number (such as the USA’s 911). In Greece, we can call 199 in the event of a fire, 166 for an ambulance, 100 to report violence, 179 for domestic violence and 109 for the narcotics squad. And, of course, there is the 197 «direct social aid» number. Evidently we have no shortage of emergency telephone lines – and on this level are well organized, one could say – but unfortunately we have seen few positive results from these services. And this is not purely the fault of citizens.