SHOOT-OUTS like the one at Ypsonas on Saturday night in which two policemen were injured, one critically, are not common in Cyprus. Even the lowlifes of the Cyprus underworld do not usually open fire on police cars with automatic rifles. They often shoot at underworld rivals, even using anti-tank missiles, or place bombs under their cars but until Saturday they avoided taking on the police.
This was perhaps the reason for the shocked reaction of the politicians that felt obliged to utter the familiar platitudes, usually reserved for crimes of this type. President Anastasiades, who went to see the critically injured policeman at Limassol general hospital on Sunday, declared that the attack against the police constituted an attack on the state. There would be zero tolerance and “we will not allow criminals to think that they can act the way they did,” he said. Akel also called for zero tolerance and demanded that the authorities show the utmost severity to those who attack officers of the law and the public.
Police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou said the “underworld will receive the response it deserves,” while the minister of justice Ionas Nicolaou warned that crime in Cyprus was “evolving and becoming more ruthless”. Assertions about zero tolerance and warnings to criminals about the response of the authorities do not sound serious nor inspire public confidence, as they sound more like warnings to misbehaving schoolchildren.
Has there not always been zero tolerance of criminal acts? Have the authorities ever given the impression that they would allow criminals to act as they liked? Does the police chief have to say that the underworld would suffer the response it deserved? Surely, none of these statements need to be made. It is actions and not words the public wants from the authorities in such cases. The politicians should stick to praising the bravery of the police officers who put their lives at risk in the line of duty.
Meanwhile, the force command, apart from its response plans, should also review the methods and procedures used by policemen. Should the two policemen not have asked for back-up before heading to Ypsonas to check out the suspicious hire car? Admittedly, they may have thought this would be a routine check and that they would not have encountered a criminal gang armed with automatic rifles, but extra caution should always be part of the force’s rules, if only to protect its members from the unpredictability of hardened criminals.
Some political parties argued that the force needed to strengthened, but this will not be achieved by hiring more officers. It will be achieved by better training that would make officers better able to cope with difficult and unpredictable situations like Saturday night’s. There is also a need for stricter procedures that would offer more protection to policemen.