THE NUMBER of crimes committed in Slovakia grew by nearly 14,500 in 2002 from the previous year, including an increase in murders, racial violence, and corruption crimes, prompting the Interior Ministry to declare a decline in society's moral values.
According to a report on the security situation in Slovakia recently published by the ministry, 107,373 crimes were committed in 2002, with total damages assessed at Sk28.8 billion (€689 million).
In light of the rising crime figures, the Interior Ministry has proposed a list of priorities for the police force to address this year.
Apart from a continued effort to be "tough on crime" - the motto of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko - authorities plan to reform the police force to eliminate excessive bureaucracy in favour of sending more officers out onto the streets.
Observers agree that communication with citizens also needs to be improved in order to regain the public's trust in the police, which has been lost in recent years.
The ministry's report states that in 2002 "the security situation was characterised by growing violence, corrupt behaviour, and a continuing decline of moral values".
"Disrespect for laws and their purposeful misapplication by society's elite was reflected in the attitudes and actions of other social strata. These phenomena have led to an increase in violent, property, and economic crimes," the report says.
Racially motivated crimes nearly trebled from 2001 to 2002, rising to 109 last year, leading the Interior Ministry to note that such crimes "are an increasingly present threat to the [positive] development of the security situation."
"The reason for this is a growing group of repeat youth offenders inclined to racially intolerant behaviour," states the report.
The report specifies that in 2002 racial attacks were primarily directed against the Roma and people of African and Asian descent.
It is estimated that there are about 5,000 right-wing extremists in Slovakia. Last year representatives from the Interior Ministry, NGOs, the police, investigators, and other bodies involved in addressing racial violence formed a commission that meets regularly to discuss the most acute problems in the sphere and sets out long-term plans to prevent racial violence.
Around 15,000 gun-related crimes and 128 murders took place in Slovakia in 2002. The country also recorded 10 cases that involved bombs, and 235 cases of arson. These were most frequently linked to other crimes such as blackmail, racketeering, and threatening or eliminating competitors, the report states.
Property crimes grew by 3,500 to a total of 57,543 cases, causing damages of over Sk3 billion (€73 million).
As many as 14,448 economic crimes were committed in Slovakia last year, racking up losses of Sk24.6 billion (€600 million). Most of these were fraud-related, and many were linked to the 139 bribery cases recorded.
Robert Kaliňák, head of the parliamentary security committee, told The Slovak Spectator that more effective law enforcement and more officers on the streets would help curb the country's escalating crime rate.
"In general, the security situation is not satisfactory. As the [Slovak] saying goes, 'Opportunity makes a thief'. Because officers are often not out on the streets, the rule of law is not felt as an immediate threat to offenders," Kaliňák said.
"Police are overwhelmed by lots of administrative tasks instead of being in the streets," he added.
Reforming the police so that excessive bureaucracy is eliminated is among the Interior Ministry's top priorities for 2003.
Interviews with citizens and various opinion polls have shown that people would feel safer if more officers were on the streets.
"They should be out and at hand when people need them. That would make everyone feel more safe. Minister [Palko] should make sure that happens soon," said Pavel T., 63, a resident of Bratislava.
Stricter laws, special investigators, prosecutors, and nearly 100 other measures aimed at making Slovakia a safer place for its inhabitants are included in the national plan to fight crime that the cabinet approved in January this year.
However, overcoming the lack of trust the citizens have in the police is one of the most difficult tasks at hand, as officers are often caught in the middle of various crimes, making headline news.
In 2002, 189 crimes were committed by officers, 22 of them involving car accidents. Ten of these were committed by drunken policemen, including high-ranking officers.
"It is natural that people are interested in these cases and that creates a bad name for the police," said Marta Bujňáková, spokesperson with the Bratislava regional police headquarters.
She said that the vast majority of policemen were dedicated to helping the public and were doing the best they could in their jobs.
"The majority of policemen are really dedicated to working in the best interests of citizens. We are trying to be everywhere that people need us," she said.
"However, we also need people to cooperate with us, because without the citizens' cooperation, our work would be very difficult."
28. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová