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More officers back on the beat

“The role of policemen is operational, not behind a desk,” said Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou

By Angelos Anastasiou

SOME 200 public services are to be seconded to police desk work, allowing more officers back on the beat, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said yesterday, adding that police work had increased a thousandfold since 2012. .

Presenting his ministry’s budget to the House finance committee, Nicolaou said that despite a stagnant budget due to financial constraints, the aim was for police operations to become more effective.

He said the secondment of 200 clerks from the broader public sector had already been arranged, to replace an equal number of policemen who will return to the field. The number of police officers assigned to clerical posts, approximately at 700, has already been reduced by 105, with further reduction to follow. “The role of policemen is operational, not behind a desk,” said Nicolaou.

He added that this issue forms part of the reorganisation of the civil service. “We have focused on the police force’s operational capabilities,” he said.

He said that in 2011 and 2012, some 139 raids into private security firms and casinos were conducted. In the first nine months of 2013 the number rose to 205, and between September 2013 and September 2014 around 3,700 police operations were conducted.

“We don’t want the police to distract itself with other tasks – its priority must be fighting crime,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nicolaou updated deputies on the progress of plans to construct new prison via a public-private partnership (PPP). He noted that the total area of the facility had been halved from an initial 60,000 square metres, cutting the cost from €200 million to €80 million, but could not provide a start date.

Commenting on the issue of policemen assigned to guarding political leaders, Nicolaou said their number fell in 2014. He said the same is expected in 2015, but added that police protection was dispatched as needed.

“The police are obliged to offer adequate security to political individuals, where necessary,” he said. “The issue of guards to political persons cannot be linked with any issue other than security needs.”

The justice ministry’s 2015 budget is €269 million, up roughly by €200,000 compared to the previous year.

A large portion of the budget – €215 million, or 80 per cent – goes to payroll and benefits, which did not go unnoticed by committee members.

“What remains of concern is something we had observed last year – namely, that 80 per cent of the justice ministry’s budget relates to salaries and benefits,” said the committee’s chair Nicolas Papadopoulos.

“This raises legitimate concern as to whether the remaining 20 per cent is sufficient to fund all the activities and projects we demand and expect in terms of justice and public order.”

AKEL deputy Aristos Damianou charged that the budget’s key feature is that it does not offer solutions. “This is understandable, in part, because the financial crisis does not allow for much spending, but at the same time the problems in the field of justice are real and lingering,” he said.

He accused Nicolaou of not involving himself in dialogue with parties, citing the new bill on football violence which the justice minister sponsored.
“The fan card and the rest of the measures alone will cost an additional €2 million, and a supplementary budget will be required,” said Damianou.

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