RIGA - The number of criminal procedures on inciting racial and ethnic hatred launched by the Latvian Security Police has declined considerably this year.
This can be seen as evidence that the anti-racism policies of Prime Minister Godmanis have been coming to fruition in a very positive way.
"I would have to say that over the last 16 months we've noticed a marked decrease in violent crimes against people of color in Latvia," George Steele, an active member of Afrolat, an organization which promotes and protects the rights of people of color in Latvia, told The Baltic Times.
"Under Godmanis, they take [racial and ethnic crimes] more seriously," he explained.
He said part of the decrease in crimes could be attributed to the fact that, "there has been a step up in the number of police officersâ€¦especially in the Old Town where members of hate groups were meeting and staging attacks."
The visible presence of uniformed police officers in Riga's center, and especially the Old Town, has been a principle factor leading to the decrease in reported violent ethnic and racially motivated crimes.
Furthermore, the most prominent leaders of hate groups are known by the Latvian police, and have been physically kept out of Riga's center.
Steele explained that police work against racism in Latvia has focused mainly on Riga, but he added that racial hatred groups are also active in Daugavpils and Liepaja.
According to Steele, the Latvian police have been taking violence against people of color very seriously. When a colleague of his was involved in a recent "scuffle," which he feels escalated because of race, "he immediately contacted the police. They came, and they were serious and courteous, and started a real investigationâ€¦This is the first time an investigation was taken so seriously."
Furthermore, law enforcement authorities have actively combated the skinhead movement over the past year and a half. Leaders of these groups have been put under arrest.
Earlier court trials for perpetrators, leading to punishments with real jail terms, have also played a significant role in decreasing racial violence. These measures have shown potential criminals that the police will hold them responsible for their racist actions.
Last year there were 16 criminal procedures launched on inciting national, ethnic and racial hatred in Latvia. This was an increase from 2006, when 14 criminal procedures were launched. This year, only eight criminal procedures have been launched, seven of which deal with racially hostile comments published on the Internet.
Only one case of physical abuse 's categorized as hooliganism 's was sent to the State Police for investigation this year.
For eight further complaints of ethnic and racially motivated crimes this year, the Security Police have declined to launch a criminal procedure.
Among the cases launched during the past eight years, equal numbers of Latvians and other ethnic groups living in Latvia have been accused of racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes.
Steele was quick to clarify, however, that the decrease in racially motivated crimes this year is only reflective of the number of reported hate crimes. A large percentage of racially motivated crimes go unreported each year.
According to Latvian Penal Law, national, ethnic and racial hatred carries a sentence of up to ten years in jail.