Police union passes veiled security threat

  • 2005-09-14
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - A representative of the police union has warned that, unless attention is paid to Interior Ministry demands for more money, next year's World Hockey Championships may lack sufficient security.

What's more, if the country's policemen continue to go underpaid, Latvia's foreign affairs could also be affected, chairman of the police union, Agris Suna, said this week.

He said that budget problems could also pose a security threat for the 2006 NATO summit if Latvia is chosen as the venue. Unless the situation improves by the end of the year, police may warn the security alliance that local law enforcement is unable to provide necessary safety measures, Suna said.

It's simply a question of manpower, he explained, since the ministry continues to hemorrhage personnel - over 500 this year alone have quit the force.

The chairman did acknowledge, however, that the military could make up some of the shortage.

The announcement appeared amid government discussions over next year's budget and a host of other demands for higher wages. Politicians are finding it increasingly tough to keep everyone happy, especially when considering the ministry's chronic under-funding.

But for many, Suna's words went overboard. Officials within the Interior Ministry, along with politicians, immediately repudiated the statements. State Police Chief Janis Zascirinskis called for an Internal Security Bureau investigation into the matter.

Suna, who is reportedly an inspector for the 25th precinct, may have exceeded his authority, police officials said.

To calm fears, Zascirinskis cited major events in the past - such as the Riga 800 festival, and U.S. President George W. Bush's visit in May - where police successfully maintained security.

Juris Reksna, state secretary of the Interior Ministry, called Suna's statements a "provocation." His deputy, Raimonds Blukis, called it "populist." Parliamentarian Linda Murniece of New Era also reportedly criticized Suna's statement.

The police union claims the situation will only get worse, citing a survey that reported as many as 1,000 people from the Interior Ministry may leave by the end of the year if a pay-increase is not instituted.

A demand for higher wages is not the only thing troubling the Interior Ministry, which has been rocked by an alleged scandal involving exorbitant bonuses for police chiefs and their deputies around the country. The incidents led Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons to order an investigation.

During an investigation into alleged improprieties involving the privatization of ministry assets, State Secretary Juris Reksna was suspended. Reksna called the inquiry "absurd," and "politically motivated." The privatization of three different properties would have reportedly brought losses of some 80,000 lats to the ministry. Reksna initially considered resignation, but now says he will wait until the investigation is complete to see the results.

Police took their demand for higher wages to the streets in mid-August, some even wearing uniforms. Weeks later, members of the teacher's union followed in a similar demonstration.