Hundreds of policemen who were doing desk jobs are being obliged to go onto the streets to fight crime and cope with Romania’s severe traffic problems. Numerous commanding officers have seen their jobs vanish and are having to choose between retirement or accepting a lower-level position. These are the most visible effects of the Romanian General Inspectorate of the Police (IGP) reorganisation process, which started on 15 August.
The changes have led to the elimination of 20 jobs at the very top of the IGP management, as well as the abolition of 16 departments. Meanwhile, numerous personnel from the human resources, accounts and logistics offices, along with many employees of police farms, are being turned into operative personnel. “We simply eliminated the parallelisms in the system,” explains IGP chief Dan Fatuloiu. “This way, we will have more policemen on the streets and less in the offices,” he adds.
Another very important change is the decentralisation of the Police Inspectorate. It is now divided into three autonomous departments: Public Safety, Criminal Investigations and Fighting Organised Crime and Drugs.
Not everybody is happy with the overhaul. “I’m already 55 and I believed it’s obvious at my age I can’t go and chase criminals anymore,” says a former clerk from one of Bucharest’s police stations. One of his colleagues, a woman who worked for 30 years as a typist, managed to obtain early retirement just days before being transferred to a public order department.
The police reorganisation was among the conditions for Romania’s EU accession, planned for 1 January 2007. The most recent EU report on Romania’s progress cited major problems in the Justice and Internal Affairs negotiations chapter. Failure to address these shortcomings could lead Brussels to activate a safeguard clause, automatically postponing the accession.
But modernising the police system doesn’t come cheaply. Official estimates say the total cost of bringing it up to Western standards could exceed 1 billion euros.
Fifteen years after the collapse of the communist regime, opinion polls suggest that the police are among the country’s least trusted institutions. Only between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of the public say they trust the police, whereas 70 per cent trust the army.
Nevertheless, Romania has a low crime rate, in comparison with Western countries and even with its Balkan neighbours — 1,200 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants, against 9,000 in United Kingdom, 6,300 in France, 2,500 in Czech Republic and 4,000 in Bulgaria. Some critics, however, say these figures do not reflect the reality, since many small crimes go unreported. Coming up with better data is another challenge for the Romanian police, one that may require some personnel to stay at their desks.