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Who pays the penalty for the unending Czech Police reform?


The Interior Minister’s team is bent on executing a police reorganization in 2012 but continuous reforms over the past five years were all bark and no bite

foto: © ČESKÁ POZICE, Richard CortésČeská pozice

Nearly everyone who is interested in the goings on at the Ministry of the Interior is aware that under its current leadership the Czech Police is in dire straits and balancing on the brink of survival while a continuous reform of the institution, already being implemented for over five years, is not yielding any significant results.

The only visible outcome is a fresh coat of paint on police stations (indeed often only in places where the general public has access) and newly bestickered police cars which, however, are not fully deployable for a lack of money in the police budget.

Another characteristic result of the reforms are persistent name and organizational changes – from Police Districts to Territorial  Departments or from Regional Police Administration Authorities to Regional Police Directorates and, a year later, their subdivision into smaller entities. This all costs millions upon millions of crowns spent on repainting signs or the replacement of stamps and logos.

With some exaggeration it is possible to say that at present the system only works through inertia – and this only thanks to those in the police force who deem their profession a vocation. Minister of the Interior Jan Kubice (non-affiliated) and his team are hellbent on conducting a reorganization of the police this year which they claim should from the start of 2013 result in extensive savings and also a slimming down of the top-heavy police bureaucracy. In short, it is seeking to transfer people from the office onto the streets. But this is what we have been hearing for years now and it has always proved all bombast without any bones.

Reorganizations in reality

The story is a familiar one. If staff positions with a management bonus are abolished new positions are created enabling the same people to resume their former commanding roles.

This also happened during the abolishment of the District Police Directorates. The redundant district police directors received hefty rewards in the order of hundreds of thousands of crowns as balm for their wounded feelings (known in the business world as a golden handshake) only to become, from one day to the next, deputies of the newly-established  Territorial Departments. After several months they were paid the same wages they enjoyed in their former positions as district directors – their salaries had been “evened up” through increases in incentives payments or by the provision of bonuses on a regular basis.

Shortly thereafter the reform experts realized someone with staffing policy powers was needed for the territory of the abolished District Police Departments. Therefore, one of the two territorial department deputies was endowed with such powers, in effect turning this deputy into a commanding officer (director or head) who is once again perceived by both the general public and regular policemen as the director of the police district.

The fact of the matter is with the police – once you have become a commanding officer you can be assured you will stay one for the rest of your career in the service.

As part of the narrative that the top-heavy police command structure needed trimming down, staff positions for the commanding officers of the detectives' departments were shed during that same period. This task was assumed by the Deputy Police President for Criminal Police and Investigation Service who, up until that point, was just in command of the commanding officers of the detective departments. Commanders of the detective departments became coordinators of criminal proceedings and remained in the same salary bracket evened up with a management bonus. Although the coordinator's job description had in the process somehow become a secret, in practice they are conducting the same activities prior to the name-change of their position. Overall, in the framework of the district directorates, there are dozens of such coordinators.

The fact of the matter is with the police – once you have become a commanding officer you can be assured you will stay one for the rest of your career in the service. The police will always look after you. Why is this case? It's because of the information you have at your disposal. You happen to know that your colleague used their service car for a private trip across half the country (what's more, they were doing so while on leave!) while, at the same time, your colleague is aware that you have somehow become the proud owner of a VIP season ticket for your favoured football club, etc.

One would therefore assume that every police officer should be highly motivated to do their job properly in order to become a commanding officer sometime in the future. But it does not work quite like that with the police. Policemen can be divided into two groups – workhorses and fancy horses. Nowadays you can even be born a “fancy horse policeman”. The only thing you would need is a highly-placed police official in the family.

Several examples of this can be found in both the Czech Police Presidium and in every police district. In the Czech – supposedly apolitical – police force you can, however, also become a fancy horse thanks to your political orientation. This was clearly demonstrated during Civic Democrat (ODS) Ivan Langer's term as interior minister as he overhauled the force like none of his predecessors.

Policemen can be divided into two groups – workhorses and fancy horses.

Which of the two kinds of policemen you are destined to become depends on the differing positions superiors take towards their subordinates. But a lot depends on the professionalism of the workhorse policemen.

They are rewarded a regular monthly wage for their efforts. Until recently they could soundly rely upon their wage to be able to afford a mortgage. Not so anymore. For many a mortgage has become unattainable and others, who already have a mortgage, have difficulty paying them. Their earnings have gradually been cut back – here by the discontinuation of the 10-percent wage supplement for shift work, there through a several-hundred crown reduction in the bonus for hazardous work, depending on the place and character of the work, and finally as a result of a 10-percent reduction in the basic salary – by a total of several thousand crowns.

Also the number of police officers has been reduced. The amount of work increases and, to be on the safe side, no-one is even placing on file the number of hours of overtime worked up to and over the 150 hour-overtime limit placed on run-of-the-mill police officers. Those police officers sent away to quell regional problems such as racial tensions in Northern  Bohemia – and now in the Karvina district – will serve their hours and will perhaps also be paid some overtime. But this is once again happening at the expense of others not so (un)lucky who stayed behind in their police offices or were sent elsewhere.

Why moonlighting?

According to civil service law, members of the security forces and member of the security forces are not entitled to gainful employment other than for the services defined in the law. Exceptions to this rule are stipulated in internal regulations – as regards the police, specifically the Binding Direction of the Police President (ZPPP) number 40 from 2009 defining activities where police officers are allowed to make some money on the side.

The rules include, for example, publicly beneficial activities conducive to the needs and interests of society; membership of executive or supervisory boards of civic associations, cooperatives or civic associations of home- or flat owners who do not conduct any commercial activities; small-scale sales of surplus home-grown fruits and vegetables or self-bred farming animals; work as an interpreter (but by no means as a sworn interpreter); publishing, literary, artistic, scientific and educational activities; examiner activities or activities involving the production of electricity from renewable sources up to  20 kW. Everyone must admit that only a limited group of policemen are capable of conducting such activities. It is, moreover, a matter of course that the execution of these activities should not be in conflict with interests stemming from the exercise of police duties. And believe me, such a conflict of interests can usually be found.

The reader can take exception to all this and ask what is the author – or, for that matter, what are these policemen – after? They have, to be sure, still an overall relatively decent income and, contrary to most others, also a sense of security. The Czech Republic has plunged into economic crisis or is on the brink of it – everybody has to tighten their belts.

I share your view, but what we are talking about here is that the rules – the wage levels – have been changed here in the course of the game without giving regular policemen or other members of the security services the chance to face up to the new situation. Many policemen have therefore no choice but to willingly contravene the law and do some “moonlighting.”

Butcher, baker, candlestick-maker?

lIt would not require much to remedy the situation, perhaps even without the need for a change in the law. It could happen simply through an adjustment of the directive of the police president and an extension of the list of activities policemen are permitted to conduct. What problem would arise for the Czech state if a police officer be allowed to carry out a trade (carpenter, cabinetmaker, bricklayer, butcher…) in their free time? These internal rules would naturally also be adjusted with regard to the other security services such as firefighters, the prison service, court police or others. If they need to make some extra money, then they would at least have this opportunity to do it legally.

Were this to happen, the perception of the Czech security forces in neighboring countries, which have proved capable of taking care of their service personnel, would clearly change.  But this is not a matter for the police but for politicians. I have no doubt, for the example, that the Czech army is in a similar predicament.

Lieutenant colonel Zdeněk Ondráček was a member of the Czech special police unit for uncovering corruption and financial crime (ÚOKFK) before quitting his job following disillusion with conditions in the force.