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25 April, 2024
 
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Police force faces renewed criticism after recent tragedies

Officer's alleged oppression and rape case rock police force

Pavlos Neophytos

The debate on the problems in the police force, which was a hot topic in the public sphere last week due to the two fatal attacks that occurred in a short span of time, was reignited on Wednesday, when all the relevant officials, led by the Minister of Justice and Public Order, Anna Koukkidi-Prokopiou and the Chief of Police, Stelios Papatheodorou, met in the Parliament's Institutions Committee.

Although the main subject of discussion - for the second time - was the report of the GRECO Commission on the police, it was inevitable that the link between the findings and the recent events would come up at several points. "One of the findings of the report has to do with the low efficiency of the security forces.

This cannot be unrelated to what has been happening in the past days and weeks," said the chairman of the Parliament's Institutions Committee and MP of DISY, Demetris Demetriou, while the remarks of other committee members, such as Nikos Georgiou (DISY), Irini Charalambidou (AKEL) and Giorgos Pasiourtidis (AKEL), also followed the same line of thought.

Leader's mandate to set up committee
The acknowledgement of issues in the police force, by both the Ministry of Justice and the leadership of the police, was demonstrated by the assurance of both Ms. Prokopiou and Mr. Papatheodorou, that the recommendations of GRECO will be implemented. In fact, as the Chief of Police noted, he has already appointed a committee, with the task of monitoring the implementation of the recommendations, as well as presenting relevant bills to the MPs. He also emphasized that the appropriate time frame for implementing the recommendations is 18 months from the publication of the report last October. The political will to implement the recommendations is a given, Prokopiou said. She also informed that the Cabinet, with its decision on October 4, 2023, authorized her, in cooperation with the chief of police, to oversee the implementation and report to the Cabinet on the progress of this process.

Reflections and studies two years ago
Although the Parliamentary Committee welcomed the commitments of the minister and the Chief of police to implement the recommendations, it remained a matter of debate whether this alone is enough to achieve the common goal of modernizing, upgrading and reorganizing the police. "The implementation of these recommendations cannot be done without a holistic reorganization of the police force," said the president of the Committee, Demetris Demetriou, while in her contribution to the debate, the MP of DISY, Rita Superman, reminded that for two years there have been various studies and proposals from private companies for the modernization of the police, but these studies, for which, as she stressed, the companies have been paid generously by the Republic of Cyprus, have been left in the drawers.

"You talked about appointing a committee and implementing the recommendations, but I am worried that we will be taking temporary measures to just patch up the situation. We have really reached a point where we have to face the truth. The need for full modernization, as far as I know, has been recognized and for two years various studies and proposals have been made by private companies for the modernization of the police, which companies have been paid handsomely by the Republic of Cyprus," said Ms. Superman.

The minister of Justice responded to this issue, when in her statements she assured that these studies have not been ignored. "From the studies, some things can be adapted to the Cypriot context, as the experts of the research were foreign and many of the proposals have been selected by the leadership of the police as suitable for the modernization, upgrading and reorganization of the force," she said.

He said that the new issues that emerge are reflected in the budget of the Ministry and the police and they are all part of the plan. One of these issues is the strengthening of the independence and the capacity of the Police Intelligence Directorate, others are digitalization, the improvement of the call center and a greater focus on policing issues, as well as the issue of non-police duties.

Both the Minister of Justice and Public Order, Anna Koukkidi-Prokopiou, and the Chief of Police, Stelios Papatheodorou, assured the House Institutions Committee that GRECO's recommendations will be implemented.

The officer, who was accused of oppressive conduct, and the rape case
Regarding the examples that were mentioned for comments and answers on the disciplinary procedures within the police, two cases that were exposed by Ms. Superman and stirred the debate were indicative. Specifically, she spoke of the inability to prosecute a senior police officer, who was accused of oppressive conduct against 10 members of the Force.

"The officer in question, as we all know, has boasted more than once that he would manage to retire before he was tried, and by various tricks he has now succeeded in being on pre-retirement leave. I am convinced, Madam Secretary, that the delay was initiated by the police, as the case was held for three years at the headquarters before the adjudication committee was appointed, deliberately. Of course, in practice, he could still be tried since he is not yet retired and the only penalty at this stage that could be imposed on him would be demotion by rank and order, which would affect his benefits. I don't think that will happen at all. The mockery to his colleagues, to the body he served for so many years and to the Parliament ends here with your help and tolerance," she said. On his part, the police chief replied that "this case has not been delayed, it is ongoing, it is before an independent commission and its adjudication will continue."

Ms Superman also denounced the cover-up of a case of rape of a female police officer by a police officer and sexual harassment by two other police officers. "You know that, if I were in the force, this case would not be dropped, and would probably also be tried by the Criminal Court. You will tell me that the legal service has closed it and that the police are doing their job. At this point it would be good to know what the investigating judge suggested in the file, so as not to blame it on the Legal Service," Ms Superman said. The answer came from the Minister of Justice, who in her statements said "if Ms. Superman has evidence, she must come and testify to it, to be examined. If they are true, this is a very serious matter, but certain evidence must be submitted by Mrs. Superman on the subject she has raised."

'Pay frontline police officers for the lack of vision of superiors'
From then on, the discussion dealt with various other issues within the police force, some of which are linked to the GRECO report and others have come to the attention of the members of Parliament. The MP of AKEL, Irene Charalambidou, spoke about party interventions in the appointments and promotions of police officers, something that the president of the Committee, Dimitris Dimitriou, agreed with. Ms Charalambidou asked the Minister of Justice and the Chief of Police for an institutional framework for how promotions are examined and decided.

"In many cases the front-line police pay for the lack of vision of their superiors and the poor organizational structure of the Force," Akel MP Andreas Pasiourtidis said. He also noted that "I often hear 'the hands of the policemen are tied', perhaps what a policeman does not know is how to properly implement the legislation.

The reasons are either the lack of education or the wrong guidance from the superior, resulting in either the demoralization of lower rank police officers, or the increase of the feeling of insecurity among citizens.

The president of the committee, Dimitris Dimitriou, asked that the police officers be transferred from the offices and that administrative staff be hired. "I don't agree that the job of the police is to police football matches," he added. In agreement, it was commonly admitted that the police are constantly burdened with tasks, which are not police-related. "The police say so and I support them," Ms Prokopiou said, adding that she discussed this issue with the president of the Republic, Nikos Christodoulides, and there will be actions.

Female police officers on similar duties: private officers or ushers at official funerals
Taking the cue from a remark by Ms. Superman that women who join the police force are discriminated by their male colleagues and do not receive equal treatment in their assignment to the various departments, resulting in men in power preferring to place them in offices, as private officers, or in the archives, or ushers at official funerals, Ms. Prokopiou stressed that it is important to have more women in the force and not in similar duties. There is also a plan for recruitment, the minister said, stressing that some positions were unjustly frozen for years. The police chief informed that there were 1,000 vacant police posts, now 600 cadets are attending the Police Academy and next April - "thankfully," he said - 182 will graduate.

Wages, crime and second jobs
Regarding the salaries of police officers, the MP of Diko, Pavlos Mylonas, asked whether, if they are not adequate for modern times, the result is that police officers are susceptible to the underworld. On his part, the other MP of Diko, Zacharias Koulias, asked the Minister of Justice and the chief of police to pay attention to the issue of salaries, especially of the newly appointed police officers, because many of them are forced to do a second job. In an intervention, the president of the police branch of equality, Nikos Loizidis, said that the newly appointed police officer receives a net salary of 1200 euros per month.

GRECO's findings on police
Regarding the police, GRECO calls for targeted measures to enhance the objectivity and transparency of decisions on the selection of high-ranking officers, promotions and transfers. This also applies to the appointment and removal of the chief and deputy chief of police, it notes. It also highlights the need for a holistic restructuring of how complaints against the police are submitted and processed, as well as transparency and accountability in their handling. Indeed, the public complaints system suffers from the lack of structured coordination between the competent authorities and the lack of uniform procedures with each authority following its own internal procedure when handling complaints. According to the report, the police oversight and accountability framework would benefit from streamlining and clear operating and coordination instructions and protocols.

Improvements are still needed in enforcement to ensure that cases are dealt with in a timely manner and that misconduct is effectively punished, it reports.

The commission also notes the need to strengthen the procedures for the screening of personnel both at their appointment and at regular intervals, as well as to enhance the representation of women at all levels and their promotion. Finally, it is crucial that whistleblower protection legislation is combined with implementing measures that effectively enable police officers to speak safely.

GRECO, as part of its assessment, makes 22 recommendations to Cyprus: 13 recommendations regarding central governments (Section 1) and 9 recommendations regarding the Cyprus police (Section 2).

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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Cyprus  |  police  |  crime  |  government

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