Policing without the police

Former top Czech police officer outlines his fears for the national force faced with cuts that could mean a quarter of staff being let go by 2014

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As a former police officer, I follow with fear the government moves — mainly those stemming from the Finance Ministry — which are leading to a sustained cut in the budget of the Czech Police. Given my slightly more than 23 years with the force, I can claim to know the situation and must say that these moves appear to be clearly aimed and targeted at liquidating the national police force. Are these steps being taken by people who realize what they are doing and are aware of the results? Is this political amateurism from people who cannot see beyond one political term? Or is this the results of clear plans and a clearly defined goal?

Reports suggest the continued cuts in the police budget, that the government already counts on for next year, will lead to the around 10,000 police leaving the force by 2014. Today’s police force of around 40,000 men and women should be cut by around a quarter to 30,000. According to Police President Petr Lessy, such cuts will practically eliminate a force that is already suffering from a shortage of officers.

‘That sort of reduction begs questions of those in positions of responsibility about where they expect the cuts to fall.’

That sort of reduction begs questions of those in positions of responsibility about where they expect the cuts to fall. Several waves of transfers of posts from police to civilian staff have already occurred and, according to my calculations, there are only a few hundred more such posts where this could still occur without threatening or having an impact on the police services to the overall population. The examples are:

District weapons and security equipment services which could be handed over to civilian staff.

IT and site maintenance functions and personnel charged with searching for missing persons; administrative tasks not on the ground staff, and perhaps some analytical staff. Those administrative functions could be carried out by staff employed at lower costs, such as the wheelchair disabled.

Costs of many highly paid officers could also be saved on police education. For example, the Prague police academy has already undergone a repeated process where jobs have been transferred to civilians and taken out of the service. Quality training twinned with practice is, however, already insufficient in the police force and other emergency services because of cash constraints. Pay for those teaching in the police academy is comparable to the lowest administrative levels of those serving on local forces, when indirect top-up payments are taken into account.

Top specialists in the field should have an interest in seeing that the best education and training is offered. I can imagine a system where former police specialists are given the opportunity to pass on their knowledge through a change in the law on retirement earnings that would make such service a final high point in the careers of many officers.

The same sort of changes could take place at other police educational establishments offering qualifications,  expertise or  training for officers.  Media reports suggest that mid-level police training and education will be cut back. It looks like just two police establishments, at Prague and Holešov, will remain, others at Brno, Jihlava and Pardubice look set to close along with all regional training institutions. The question remains, who will then provide police training for some specific sectors?

Getting back to the basic question, where will the around 10,000 jobs cuts in the force be found? Will they be spread across the board from all sectors or will some sectors, such as the criminal, transport, or general service police be expected to bear more of the burden?

‘Cuts in the criminal police would seem hard to find, apart from the above mentioned missing persons and analytical services.’

Cuts in the criminal police would seem hard to find, apart from the above mentioned missing persons and analytical services. In fact, the criminal police could do with strengthening, especially as regards investigations of criminal acts. Investigators are currently often overwhelmed by their workload and that is reflected in the quality of their work.

A logical step would be to draw up a list of assistants working at regional and for national police units and lighten the burden of those with the heaviest workloads. Investigators with national police units are on average working on three or four different caseloads at any one time, each of these often accounting for a few thousands of pages of information. Getting to grips with all the administration and paperwork involved means there is not enough time to deal with the hundreds and thousands of pages of material.

Steps have already been taken to limit the presence of transport police at accidents with the aim of freeing them up to give greater attention to road safety. It would appear that this policy has paid off in the cutting the death toll on the roads last year [which fell to a more than 60-year low]. But cutting the number of transport police should logically lead to fewer checks being carried out and that would be bad news for a country, where in spite of the recent successes, the numbers of tragic road deaths is still very high.

The general service police, the ones operating under the slogan “Help and Protect,” are generally the first contact Czech citizens have with the force and the starting point for most officers, even if the best will later seek the higher rewards of service in the criminal service.

Even those who branch out into the criminal service find that their basic service at the bottom of the rungs is the best preparation to develop their practical knowledge and awareness of the workings of the judicial system. Cutting the number of police officers in the basic service would clearly worsen security in the regions.

‘Cutting the number of police officers in the basic service would clearly worsen security in the regions.’

Proof of this is the ethnic tension between Roma and other citizens in the east Bohemian town of Nové Bydžov and the unrest in northern Bohemian that started in the summer. Disturbances have been curbed thanks to help from police forces in other, less-at-risk regions. But more unrest sparked by ever greater economic differences between the population and lack of employment opportunities could easily crop up elsewhere over time.

One reaction to cuts in the national police force would be moves by Prague and other large towns to step up the role and responsibilities of municipal police. City police are currently on view everywhere in the capital and, as national police numbers are cut, they will have to take a greater part of the burden for guaranteeing security. 

For Czech citizens, it is all the same at the end of the day if their security is guaranteed by city or national police. But can the burden of policing be shifted without any loss of security? Responsible politicians should still be asked to justify how citizens’ safety can be guaranteed with 10,000 fewer national police officers in the service.

If the real intention is to transfer the responsibility for security to regions, towns and local districts, then instead of across the board police redundancies at a national level, a certain proportion of these officers should be redirected towards local town and district forces where their experience and knowledge can be made use of. That, however, would be a task that would take more time than one electoral term.

See related articles: Czech anti-graft top cop on why he’s quitting andElite detectives leaving Czech anti-corruption police in droves