INTERIOR Minister Vladimír Palko (left) vows to rid force of drunk cops.
Since January this year drunk policemen in uniform have caused 22 car accidents and killed several people, including a mother and a baby she held in her arms (see chart on page 10).
In the latest incident of this kind, regional police inspection officer Michal Dzúrik, from the eastern Slovak town of Košice, was returning from a meeting of inspection officers in Bratislava on October 8 when he crashed into a car driving on a highway near Nitra.
Tests showed that the officer's blood alcohol level was 3.04 parts of alcohol per thousand, which experts say is enough alcohol to cause coordination problems and to slow down reactions.
In Slovakia, it is illegal for anyone to drive having consumed alcohol. The country's police force has a history of abusing this rule, some say because officers feel they can get away with it. In the past, cases of policemen driving drunk and causing accidents were kept quiet.
However, in an effort to tackle what was seen as a growing problem, Interior Minister from 2000 to 2002 Ivan Šimko began to inform the media every time a drunk police officer caused an accident. He published the names of the guilty parties and doled out punishments, not only to the men who drove under the influence but also to their direct superiors.
FORMER cop Ján J. killed a man while driving drunk.
photo: SME - Ján Krošlák
Additionally, the former minister asked senior police officials to carry out random alcohol tests on officers and to fire anyone found to have a drinking problem. Despite those measures, however, some policemen continue to drive under the influence, sometimes with fatal consequences.
This has led the new Interior Minister, Vladimír Palko, to come out strongly against officers who break the law, and particularly those who drive drunk.
Palko said he was determined to continue the hardline approach introduced by his predecessor, and at his first press conference as Interior Minister on October 18 he told reporters he had fired Dzúrik and was preparing a suitable punishment for the head of police inspection, Jozef Kret.
"I want to continue the zero-tolerance policy towards misdemeanors and crimes committed by the police, such as officers driving cars under the influence of alcohol," said Palko.
On October 20 Palko reiterated this stance, stating: "Police officers who are caught drunk behind the wheel shall be finished in the police force."
Referring to Dzúrik's accident, the new minister said that it was "proof of the fact that some people are unable to learn from past lessons".
"Certain measures were adopted in January this year by [former] Minister Šimko. Now the year is nearing an end, we'll have to evaluate how successful those measures have been. If it turns out that they haven't been strong enough, then we will have to toughen them, but I wouldn't want to specify how," Palko said.
Recently, a 26-year-old former police officer, Ján J. from Brezno, was tried at first hearing in a local court charged with driving drunk and killing a 42-year-old man who was crossing the street. After knocking down the man, Ján J. fled the scene. He faces up to five years in jail.
Launching his fight against alcoholism among police, former minister Šimko said that there was "no magic wand" that could quickly eliminate the vice. Nevertheless, he stressed that the government "mustn't give up the fight."
Select list of car accidents caused by drunk policemen
Compiled by Martina Pisárová from The Slovak Spectator and press reports
July 29, 1999 - A police car crashed into another parked police car at Bajkalská street in Bratislava. A police officer from Nitra, whose blood alcohol level was 1.62, was at the wheel.
September 24, 1999 - A police car crashed into and killed a 15-year-old cyclist in Nová Bošáca. Three policemen who were in the vehicle ran from the scene. The driver later explained that he thought he had hit a deer. The morning after the accident his blood alcohol level was 0.9.
April 4, 2000 - The head of Trenčín regional police, Major Jozef M., caused an accident that resulted in two deaths. Two other people suffered serious injuries, while the policeman suffered minor injuries. Jozef M.'s blood alcohol level was 1.35. This was the second accident caused by the drunk policeman. In a separate incident two girls were seriously injured.
August 11, 2001 - The head of Žilina city police, Gustáv V. hit two cyclists near the Slnečné Skaly camping site. One cyclist suffered serious injuries, the other had minor injuries. Gustáv V.'s blood alcohol level was a record 2.58.
January 6, 2002 - The district police head of Kolárov, P.K., who had 1.33 blood alcohol level, hit a cyclist who died at the scene.
January 7, 2002 - The vice-head of Trenčín district police, Alexander Š. hit 28-year-old mother Zuzana A. and her baby boy. Both died; the baby at the scene, the mother one day later. The policeman's blood alcohol level was 1.23.
January 17, 2002 - Ján J., an officer from Brezno, killed a 42-year-old man who was crossing the street. Ján J.'s blood alcohol level was 1.5.
February 2, 2002 - A 59-year-old woman from Prešov had to have her left leg amputated from the knee down after a drunk 23-year-old officer Róbert L., intoxicated with 1.4 parts of alcohol per thousand, hit her with his car.
March 30, 2002 - 21-year-old officer František Babcún from Jaklovce hit another car at a parking lot in Spišská Nová Ves. Alcohol level: 1.92.
June 6, 2002 - An officer with a blood alcohol level of 2.63 crashed his car in the eastern Slovak Michalovce district.
June 20, 2002 - An officer with a blood alcohol level of 2.29 crashed his car near the western Slovak town of Nové Zámky.
June 20, 2002 - Nandor K., 34, a senior police inspector had a car accident in the village of Polina. His blood alcohol level was 2.05.
August 17, 2002 - A 40-year-old officer crashed in Banská Bystrica. His blood alcohol level was 3.35.
August 31, 2002 - A Banská Bystrica officer Roman Roštár was involved in a car accident. Tests showed his blood alcohol level was 2.75.
October 8, 2002 - Košice district chief police inspector Jaroslav Dzúrik crashed his car near Zlaté Moravce. His blood alcohol level was 3.04.
28. Oct 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová