TALLINN - Police said last week that they registered a record 45 percent closure rate on crimes in 2004, though the total number of crimes committed was largely flat throughout the year. The number of homicide cases dropped 38 percent last year, while the overall number of registered crimes decreased by 1 percent to 53,048.
Police Chief Robert Antropov commented that some of the positive trends, such as the increasing rate of crimes solved with fewer police personnel, were due to the reformation of the police force. The first major breakthrough in reducing the rate of crime, however, will be seen in the next three years.
"Last year was definitely a difficult one for both the police and society," said the police chief. "Unfortunately Estonia is still one of the top countries for suicide, traffic-accident deaths per 1,000 residents, alcohol consumption, drug addiction among youth and the spread of HIV. We are hoping for society's support and cooperation."
As part of the reform, in 2004 the number of policemen working on crime 's patrol officers, local constables and other specialists 's grew while the number of office-related staff decreased. Four administrative police prefectures, or centers, were established, replacing previously used centers in each district capital as of January 2004.
Antropov said that police tried to cut the number of road fatalities by targeting intoxicated drivers, which led to an increase in the number of drunk-driver incidents registered. The massive control raids have been productive, according to the police chief. If in 2003 one out of every 48 drivers tested positive for alcohol, then in 2004 the rate fell to one out of 77.
As Antropov explained, the crime trends over the last decade were characterized by several years of stability, followed by a spike. Estonia currently looks as if it's entering the end of this calm period, the police chief said. If so, the number of registered crimes could increase.
Amendments to legal acts, which, in many cases turn misdemeanors such as minor theft into felonies could be another explanation for the predicted boost in amount of crime. Another factor could be the maturity of the generation born around 1990, said Antropov.
While fewer instances were registered last year in Tallinn and Harjumaa 's areas that traditionally make headlines 's more crime, both misdemeanors and felonies, took place in the country's southern and western regions. This is evidence of crime migration, Antropov explained.
"There is more money in Tallinn. People are wealthier here and can afford better security solutions, which led to fewer burglaries and car thefts last year. The city is also a compact area where police can work more effectively than in rural areas," said Antropov.
The campaign against illegal drugs also bore fruit. "Our drug-fighting priority focused on major dealers, smugglers and producers," the police chief said. "This has led to a certain shrinking of the drug market in Estonia."
Antropov added that, due to a staggering number of minor crimes committed by narcotic users 's accounting for almost all vehicle thefts in 2004 's police would like to create a registry of drug addicts to prevent them from committing thefts and other crimes.
Lauri Tabur, head of the criminal police, said that his department had tightened relations with international law enforcement organizations, resulting in a higher number of crimes committed by Estonians at home and abroad. Tabur mentioned a recent police crack-down on seizing and confiscating illegally obtained property and funds from criminals as another step forward.
"The so-called project-based criminal groups have become more active. For example, people without a criminal record may carry out illegal actions to get quick profit," said Tabur.
Meanwhile, in the context of EU membership, police should pay more attention to possible corruption and money laundering connected with major cash flows from EU funds, he added.