Czech Police boss warns force could shrink below minimum levels

The head of the Czech Police says it threatens being cut to levels at which it can no longer function nationwide.

Czech Police president Petr Lessy warns the force cannot continue to function as it has nationwide because of cuts foto: © ČTKČeská pozice

Czech Police president Petr Lessy warns the force cannot continue to function as it has nationwide because of cuts

The Czech Police head has warned that a continued budget squeeze could mean that police numbers could fall below the minimum level for the force to function properly.

Police presidium president Petr Lessy warned in an interview on public broadcaster Czech Television (ČT) on Sunday that between 1,500-2000 police officers could leave the force by the end of this year at the same time as a virtual ban on new recruitment is in force.

That, Lessy cautioned , could take nationwide force numbers down to around 39,000, below the 40,309 threshold previously highlighted by police management as the minimum for the force to continue effectively nationwide.

Lessy said that the expected massive outflow of officers was a result of this year’s 10 percent cut in wages across the Czech public sector. He warned that many experienced officers with 10-15 years service behind them would be amongst those leaving. At the same time, a virtual ban on new recruitment meant many veteran officers were tied down doing routine jobs in the past performed by greenhorns.

The country’s police boss added that the squeeze on wages meant that he had not been able to create special police units staffed by around 150-200 officers on a permanent basis in the crime-ridden Ústí region in the north-west of the country as well as three other crime blackspots nationwide.

Police reinforcements were last week sent to four towns in  the Ústí region as well as the neighboring northern Liberec region following heightened racial tension following violent clashes between Roma (Gypsy) and white Czechs.

‘It is not possible to make drastic cuts year after year and remain in the dark about future prospects over  the wages budget and overall number of officers.’

Lessy said on Sunday that he would make another appeal to politically non-aligned Minister of the Interior Jan Kubice for funds to be released for the special units. “I am preparing all the necessary information for the Ministry of Interior and an analysis of the needs and will once again ask for the financial means for these units to be created,” he said.

The country’s police boss added that he could not draw on reserves of cash or manpower after several years of budget cuts. “The Czech Police would really welcome a consolidation of its force and clear budgets for future years. It is not possible to make drastic cuts year after year and remain in the dark about future prospects over the wages budget and overall number of officers,” he told Czech Television.

The overall police budget should shrink to Kč 29 billion this year from Kč 35 billion in 2010. The Ministry of Interior announced at the start of August that the police budget for next year could be cut by another Kč 1.37 billion. The police force later said that it had wrangled an extra  Kč 700 million to cover operational expenses and basic items such as gas for patrol cars.

The battle over the police budget comes at a time of low morale in a force which appears on the defensive and having lost a lot of political backing.

The police president said that the nationwide force would seek to make savings by transferring some tasks traditionally carried out by police to civilian employees as a means of cutting costs.  He gave the examples of the special arms and equipment unit or crisis management unit.

The battle over the police budget comes at a time of low morale in a force which appears on the defensive and having lost a lot of political backing.

A series of recent scandals, the biggest being allegations of a decade-long extortion ring in the Czech Republic’s second city Brno being run by current and previous police officers, have tarnished the reputation of the force. It has recently appeared that the best formula to tackle crime in the country would be to arrest the police. Ordinary Czechs already had a pretty low esteem of the force as a whole with one of the Ministry of Interior’s main priorities to try and turn around its image and make it into a trustworthy and efficient organization.

Czech Police came under sustained attack by former Minister of the Interior Radek John (Public Affairs,  (VV), who said it had the highest number of officers per head in Europe but a less than average performance.  John’s replacement by a long-time career police officer in special divisions, Jan Kubice, does not appear to have significantly improved its prospects.

Police figures for the first seven months of the year show that the force's clear up rate for serious crimes, such as murder and violent assault, and less serious crimes, such as theft, are little changed from the same period in 2010. But the police argument is that the budget cuts are taking a toll which will at some stage clearly show through in the figures.