Police pledge Tallinn will get safer

  • 2002-03-07
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Tallinn city officials are hoping a new police unit can make the Estonian capital safer by April. High crime figures - the highest in the Baltic states - are in danger of harming the city's image abroad and damaging its fledgling tourist industry.

As many as 200 new police officers could be recruited for the unit. A recruitment drive is underway, with basic job requirements including being physically fit and the ability to speak Estonian.

There is no name yet for the unit whose members will operate in pairs. But although its main duty will be to patrol the streets of Tallinn, officials are referring to it as a riot police unit.

Varmo Rein, public safety supervisor at the Estonian police department, said the riot police unit would get its baptism of fire on the streets of Tallinn. "Riot police officers will patrol the most dangerous streets. It will be their primary job," he said, adding that it is yet to be decided which streets deserve special attention.

"They will patrol the streets in a regular police outfits. Special riot equipment will be saved for rare, special occasions," said Rein.

One of the first assignments for the new unit will be keeping the peace at a friendly soccer match in Tallinn between Russia and Estonia on March 27.

The riot police unit was the brainchild of Juri Mois, a former mayor of Tallinn, last year.

Rein Lang, Tallinn's current deputy mayor, promised last week that the crime level would be slashed by late spring. He also pledged more cooperation between the city administration and the police.

Lang admitted that it was Kalle Laanet, Tallinn's new police chief since January, who broke the ice and improved communication between the city government and the police department.

The latest public safety project of the new police chief is a leaflet and online poll, begun on March 4, which aims to find out how safe city residents feel in their neighborhood and in the city in general. The police promised to reveal the results in two weeks.

According to Laanet, every resident of Tallinn knows and feels the level of safety from his or her own experience. "The opinions of residents give a good basis for cooperation between the police and the community. Without that, the police cannot work properly," said Laanet.

Lang said that official statistics referred only to registered crimes. "Many people don't trouble themselves with going to the police to report a crime, thinking it's a waste of time," Lang conceded.

The riot police unit, which is being modeled after similar units in operation in Scandinavia and Western Europe, will be trained to oppose violent demonstrations or handle serious anti-terrorist operations. It will be the second special force unit in Estonia after the small, rapid-reaction K-Kommando unit, and be completely staffed by the beginning of April.

A group of top German police officials visiting Estonia last week discussed cooperation between the police forces of the two countries and emphasized the importance of the security of tourists.

The total number of registered crimes in Tallinn, which has 365,305 residents, was up in 2001 (27,182 crimes) in comparison with 2000 (25,600 crimes).

The number of thefts in 2001 (23,616 including those from cars) rose by 1,656 on the previous year, while the number of drug-related crimes rose dramatically from 657 in 2000 to 1,383 in 2001.

The percentage of solved crimes rose in the city center in 2001 in comparison with 2000, but fell in the suburbs.

In January 2002 alone, 2,122 crimes were registered in Tallinn. Most of those took place in the city center, while Kopli, an infamous northern district, actually registered low crime levels.

Thefts and stolen cars trouble Tallinn's police the most. They shot up by 59 percent in comparison with 2001.