I had my first unconstrained encounter with the police on December 10,1989 — Human Rights Day. A police detective gave a terse reaction to the changes that were sweeping society at the time: “We hope the political pressures will stop and that there will be an end to the chalking-up-stripes-system.”
Now, more than twenty years later, I keep thinking about this sentence. Not just because it was brilliant in its succinctness, but also because we have since, unfortunately, not made much progress in this regard. First, allow me to stray away toward the “chalking-up-stripes system.” This system could be defined as a slightly comical method enabling not too knowledgeable police officials to present the work achievements of the police force in a favorable light to an even less knowledgeable government or members of parliament.
The chalking-up-stripes system entails putting the work results of the police into statistical records by adding up apples and oranges, or murders and mountain bike thefts, in order to arrive at a so-called “total outcome.” From time to time, the methodology is changed to hide overly conspicuous nonsense but the underlying principle of the system has always remained the same. The magic figure it generates is called the “criminality detection rate” — either as a total outcome or representing various categories. A vandalized row of cars is filed under a single reference number in order to reduce the negative statistical impact; when solved, each act is allotted a separate number to boost the figures.
What impacts more on police bonuses, however, is the application of “creative statistics” where, for example, the value of stolen mountain bikes is skilfully reduced to the mere worth of ordinary bicycles, in other words to a price level that causes the case to plunge from being a criminal offense into the misdemeanor category.
Or take, for example, a vandalized row of cars in a street investigated as a criminal offense committed by an unknown perpetrator, which is filed under just one single reference number in order to reduce the negative statistical impact. But if subsequently the crime is solved, it so happens that each of the cars in that row is suddenly allotted a separate reference number to maximize the positive statistical impact.
Burgled weekend home colonies are treated in a similar vein. But then there is, by contrast, the example of an anti-drugs case which took months to prepare but eventually resulted in the discovery of a narcotics factory – it will only fetch one chalk stripe, just like the solving of any petty offense would. Evaluating police work in a critical and fair way has always been rather difficult, but it seems that in this country during the past twenty or so years common sense has spent more time on leave than on the job.
But let us now approach the more serious matter — political pressure. Much like the chalking-up-stripes system, also very intimate relations between police officials and politicians help people with a limited understanding of security issues — or, if you like, a better understanding of the security of their jobs — to keep on to their posts. In some instances, there is even no need for politicians to exert any pressure as police commanders are already hung up onto their lips hoping to detect any wishes to fulfill.
Some of these police officials do not even hesitate to wait for their politician at the airport, eager as they are to obligingly grass at every opportunity. Political pressures on the work of the police and closely knitted interests between police functionaries and the business sphere are two sides of the same coin. Thus police officials display a deft ability to combine a multitude of activities — they see to it that the police force operates in accordance with the law (strictness is called for, mainly in regard to the common man) while at the same time also keeping close watch that police activities pose no threat to the stability and prosperity of certain entities (businessman, party, government). The Police President issued a notorious order stating that police chiefs decide what the police investigate or not, thus effectively placing them above the law.
And in some cases, they even have to ensure that through selectively investigating some they remove the competition for others. And to be able to do all this they need to know exactly what their subordinates are up to. That is why in 2007 the Police President issued a notorious order stating that police chiefs are the ones to decide what the police should investigate or not investigate, thus effectively placing them above the law. The order was implemented by having all police unit heads give the same order and was issued under the guise of “the need to control the quality of the work conducted by the respective police units.” Shortly after assuming his post, Tomáš Martinec, the new head of the Anti-Corruption and Financial Crime Unit (ÚOKFK), abolished exactly this order.
This brings us back to the where we were before November 1989 as not even the communists dared to issue such orders in writing! Anti-corruption policemen have their desk drawers filled with suggestions for criminal proceedings that have never been pursued as it seemed futile to put these up for investigation at the Police Presidium (not only were such requests certain to be rejected but it would also have increased the chance that the bad guys would be alerted in advance of the existence of pieces of incriminating knowledge; not to mention that in doing so the detectives could have put their sources under threat). So let us hope that now the unit regains its anti-corruption appetite!