AT FIRST glance, the latest Slovak crime figures make worrying reading, with 107,373 crimes reported in 2002. The Interior Ministry believes that putting more police on the streets will improve the situation but that misses the point.
After all, the figures only show reported crime, and in a country where the police are not trusted, it is hard to estimate the number of crimes that remain unreported.
The Interior Ministry wants to put more officers on the streets by reducing administration, but it should also be looking towards cleaning out the ranks of the police force to improve trust in the general population.
Most Slovaks' contact with the police comes from the roadside checks carried out on motorists, whose sole object seems to be to squeeze as much money out of them as possible.
In addition, Slovak newspapers frequently carry stories of crimes committed by the police themselves, particularly with regard to drink-driving and collusion with the underworld. Given the levels of improper behaviour within police ranks, there may well be many other crimes committed within the force that go unreported or unprosecuted.
If the Slovak government can show that it is both willing and able to change the culture in the police force so that such practices become completely unacceptable and will be punished to the full extent of the law, then and only then will Slovaks gain full confidence in the police.
Even so, the overall crime figures in Slovakia are still much lower than in western European countries. The 2002 figures for the UK show just over 6 million crimes reported, most of them theft. That is approximately one crime for every 10 members of the population. In Slovakia there is one reported crime for every 50 people.
There is a disproportionate and growing amount of violence, though, and the 15,000 gun-related crimes that took place last year are simply unacceptable in a country of Slovakia's size.
It is widely accepted that many of these more violent crimes are mafia-related. The only way to beat organised crime in Slovakia is to ensure the groups involved cannot profit from their activities. The justice system needs to find ways to put the known leaders behind bars and punish those in the administration and police whose collusion allows the mafia to prosper. It seems unlikely that more police on the beat will reduce these crimes.
28. Apr 2003 at 0:00