Police hope to speak louder, carry bigger stick

  • 2008-01-09
  • By Adam Krowka

SHOW OF FORCE: Police have been pushing for expanded powers since last April's riots, though critics have labelled their plans 'draconian.'

TALLINN - On Jan. 7 a proposed set of amendments to sharply expand police powers was finalized by the Interior Ministry. If approved by Parliament, the measures will affect 12 separate laws and give police more freedom in dealing with mass riots and group attacks.
The changes stem from a completed analysis of the street riots which shook Tallinn on April. 26 's 27 following the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument from the city center. The findings proposed wider rights for police forces during such incidents.

Ambiguity of the freedom of police during large disturbances came to light during the riots, which were the most violent seen in Estonia since independence. Regardless, public confidence in police forces was reported at an all-time high of 80 percent in December, according to a survey carried out by Turu-uuringute AS.
Details of the proposed bill include expansion of the police arsenal to include shackles, tasers, and various restraining devices. Use of water cannons and rubber bullets would be authorized during operations involving large groups of people.

A government opposition spokesperson labeled the measures "draconian," according to Postimees.
Freedom of public movement would be restricted when the need is determined. Temporary detainment could be authorized, and bans placed on the occupation of certain public spaces for up to 12 hours.
Additionally, new amendments to privacy laws would come into effect allowing monitoring of phone calls without the obligation to inform the subjects and the increased use of video surveillance systems.
Current legislation does not allow secret taps to be placed on phones, which it defines as an "infringement on the inviolability of private or family life about which a person must be immediately informed." BNS reported that the Interior Ministry held that the revisions would guarantee the protection of citizens and their rights.
The powers of the Interior Minister would also be expanded to directing activities of the Border Guards in certain situations. The border service could be called upon for "maintenance of the public order," and would undertake new responsibilities in traffic surveillance.

The April riots cost the government an estimated 70 million kroons (45 million euros), which includes the cost for removal of the statue, compensation for damage of private property in the riots, police costs for protection of the site, and costs of overtime pay and accommodation for police forces.
Police were later accused of using "excessive force" during the incidents by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Latvian Committee for Human Rights.