TALLINN - As the economic situation worsens, police forecast that crime rates will sharply increase over the next year. Police spokesmen said the prediction was based on a slew of recent crime sprees in Estonia as well as crimes committed by Estonians abroad.
The Estonian Central Criminal Police are predicting a rise in robberies as well as overall crime.
Eerik Heldna, head of the Central Criminal Police, said the number of robberies may continue to grow more rapidly throughout 2009. In the last year, 16 robberies, some armed, have been committed in Tallinn alone.
"Last year we predicted a surge in the number of crimes against property and this came true. Crimes against property 's [including] brutal robberies which were not committed in 2007 's stood out last year," Heldna said.
Last year's most lucrative and violent robberies were aimed at casinos, and as the economic recession continues into 2009 the resulting unemployment rate may add to the steep rise in criminal activity.
"Furthermore, the previous trends suggest that, in addition to casinos, cash-handling service providers will also come under attack more frequently than before," Heldna said.
The police head explained that, despite the fact that the robberies have been becoming more brutal, none of the attacks against casinos, gaming halls and other targets in 2008 involved serious injuries or any casualties. However, criminal police have reason to believe that such risks may arise in the future.
The criminal police also explained that due to the more difficult economic situation drug trafficking may become more attractive.
"Many earlier drug traffickers who pulled out of the business as they channeled criminal gains into legal enterprise are likely to reorient themselves to drug-related crime in the changed market situation," said Heldna.
And the markets are closely intertwined with other lucrative endeavors.
"Failing to meet liabilities, with proceeds from property sales no longer enough to bridge the gap because of the slump in real estate prices, they'll either resume or step up drug pushing. This in turn will impel existing and new drug users to commit crimes to buy the next dose," Heldna continued.
The criminal predictions for 2009 and the accompanying risks in Estonia have an affect on other nations as well. The Central Criminal Police explained that various robberies on jewelry stores have been committed by Estonians in Belgium, The United Kingdom and Finland in 2008. The smuggling of cocaine is also growing, with traffickers bringing drugs from third countries into the EU.
Data from the central criminal police suggests a slight rise in across-the-border offenses.
"At the same time Estonia's accession to the Schengen visa space has improved the legal and technological arsenal which allows [us] to track down more criminals and crimes," Heldna said.
Raivo Kuut, Estonia's national police chief, said that property crimes may also increase in 2009. Unemployment is also connected to this rise.
"It is usually people who have committed crimes also earlier who are committing new crimes, although there are new people coming in too of course," said Kuut.
This new wave is also a change in crime. No longer are people stealing property to resell, because of low purchasing power, people are stealing straight cash, from ATM's, casinos and stores, the police said.
"As things stand now, it makes sense for the thief to get namely money. When you steal goods you have to sell them, but the purchasing power of those people who would buy such goods is low too now," explained police chief Kuut.
All signs seem to be pointing to the economic slump which is likely to bring a rise in the general crime level, including organized crime.
However, despite the predictions, Kuut had a positive outlook.
"It isn't going to get as bad, though, as it was in the early 1990s, when collective farms and state-owned companies disappeared and everything was being stolen, including window frames," he said.