Kathimerini published a rather shocking article on crime in Greece today. Coming as this does on the March 25th anniversary of the Greek Revolution, it raises fundamental questions about the Greek state and its ability to protect its citizens.
The Kathimerini article starts with a statistical analysis of reported crimes in 2010 and 2011. The following information is provided:
a. Robberies rose from 6,079 incidents in 2010 to 6,636 incidents in 2011, an increase of 9.1%
b. Burglaries and home invasions rose from 90,931 incidents in 2010 to 96,925 incidents in 2011, an increase of 6.5%
c. General burglaries rose from 53,267 in 2010 to 56,852 in 2011, an increase of 6.7%
d. 54,974 illegal immigrants were arrested in 2011, an increase of 17% of 2010, when 47,079 illegal immigrants were arrested.
Besides the increase in crime, which can be attributed to the declining economy and illegal immigration, what is really shocking is the fact that of 15,562 arrests made, the large majority of [alleged] criminals were set free due to legal loopholes and conditions passed by ex-PASOK Minister Haris Kastanides.
The fact that the large majority of criminals are released leads to a “recycling” of crime, in which many of the same criminals return to crime. Some examples of the current procedures include:
· One week ago, the public prosecutor released members of a gang to whom 30 burglaries were attributed. She gave them one week to post bail. As a result, the gang disappeared, and bail was not posted. The prosecutor then issued an arrest warrant for the same gang members.
· Two Georgians, ages 21 and 22, were arrested, and it was discovered that they were responsible for 9 burglaries based on evidence recovered from their apartment. They were judged not to be a threat, and were released.
· Two Albanians, ages 23 and 25, were arrested as part of a gang that conducted 8 robberies of Postal Offices, were released, despite that fact that in one robbery a 55-year old person was injured.
· There are approximately 7,000 cases of crimes which have not been prosecuted in the Athens area alone.
The cause of this release programme is attributed by police sources to the public prosecutor’s office, and to the effects of the Kastanides law, which attempted to alleviate overcrowded prison conditions by reducing the penalties for robbery and other criminal conduct.
This situation is untenable for a number of reasons:
a. It is impossible to calculate the damage to the morale of the police force, which has seen their salaries reduced and where young entrants are literally making EUR 700 per month. Why should the police bother to arrest anyone when the large majority of criminals caught are then released?
b. It is equally impossible to imagine the outrage of the population. Yesterday’s news programme reported that a retired mother was killed in her apartment, one floor below her son, for a EUR 5 robbery. The fact that criminals can simply rob and kill with impunity and then disappear into the general population is unacceptable.
c. As a result, not only are far-right organisations gaining political ground, but extremism of all forms is flourishing, including on a personal level. I know any number of people who have stated that they would prefer to kill a burglar and dump the body somewhere than turn him over to the police. It is difficult to argue against this.
Unfortunately, none of the political parties has come up with a means-tested plan to build more prisons, expand the prosecution system and police force, and deal with the root causes as well as symptoms of crime. There are many spasmodic efforts, such as building a 12-km fence along the Evros river, or converting disused military bases to reception centres for immigrants. These may help, but what Greece needs is real expenditure to doubling the number of prison cells in the country, recruit more police officers and remunerate them properly and expand the public prosecutors offices to deal with crime. This requires real money, but I can’t help thinking that revenue from illegal activity would cover a good deal of it.
At the same time, the Greek government has been making a grand campaign to imprison people for unpaid debts. It is hard to see why debtors will go to prison (particularly while there is no space), while Georgian and Albanian burglars walk free.
The end result is a state that has failed its citizens in yet another area of public life. Together with public healthcare and public pensions, public security is a foundation of the social contract between the Greek state and its citizens and residents. An abject failure of this kind is intolerable and inexplicable, and unfortunately, has been the modus operandi in Greece for the past 30 years.
© Philip Ammerman, 2012