RIGA - At a closed Cabinet session on Aug. 29, the government expressed support for Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikars' earlier decision to release State Police Chief Janis Zascirinskis. Yet because Zascirinskis failed to show up at the meeting due to "health reasons," the decision is not yet official.
According to state law, it is the Cabinet of Ministers' authority to decide whether or not to relieve Zascirinskis of his post, and the police chief must be present at the time.
When asked why he fired the police chief, Jaundzeikars said that a series of offenses "at all levels" had been discovered among the State Police, and that Zascirinskis should shoulder the blame.
The Interior Minister added that the recent shooting of two Valmiera police officers, although it spurred the move, was not the source of his decision.
"Valmiera was just one incident 's but problems have existed [within the State Police] for a long time, for example, poor work organization and poorly arranged communication," said Jaundzeikars, adding that he was also disappointed with work within the Interior Ministry. Jaundzeikars took over the ministry after the previous minister, Eriks Jekabsons, resigned in October 2005.
Yet, the source of the problem is not employees but finances.
According to Zane Moskalonoka, chief of public relations for the State Police, Latvia has lost nearly 1,000 of its best police officers due to low wages.
"All of our best officers 's and we had some of the most qualified in Europe 's have left for either the private sector or higher paying jobs in other EU countries," Moskalonoka told The Baltic Times. "It's very disappointing, because there are fewer officers left and they're not the most competent."
On average, Latvia employs 9,000 to 10,000 state officers, Moskalonoka said. But due to poor finances, that number has been reduced to 8,000.
"It's not just low wages," the public relations chief clarified. "The police department lacks money for professional training, a modern security system, computers and technology. The situation has been very bad for quite some time now."
And police officers are also grumbling, both about finances and team cooperation. Zascirinskis himself has complained of poor relations with his subordinates, saying he has yet to form a strong team. "We have to think about a new police chief with fresh ideas, progressive thinking and the ability to raise feelings of loyalty among police," he said.
Jaundzeikars agreed with the chief of police, adding that although Zascirinskis had done much for the department, there were "also areas where he fell short." The minister plans to use Zascirinskis' experience in another, albeit lower, position.