The Slovenia Times

In the crossfire



It began on August 7 with an apparent domestic dispute in a residential street in Ljubljana. When police arrived on the scene, the 69-year-old suspect opened fire. Two police officers were shot, the others managed to respond, killing the man. The injured officers were taken to the hospital, where they recovered.

In a country where gun violence is relatively rare, and police shootings rarer still, the incident quickly became big news. A rarely talked about subject suddenly found itself in the center of national attention.

The police reaction was not particularly controversial. Police representatives insisted that the officers were correct to act in self-defense and, for the most part, the public accepted the argument. Still, the incident raised a number of questions about the state of Slovenia's police force.

Too old for action?

Chief among the concerns was the issue of bulletproof vests used by the police and why the two injured officers were not wearing them at all. The leader of Slovenia's Police Union, Branko Prah, was quick to speak up, arguing that the vests are simply outdated and ill-suited to today's needs: "We have been rejecting these vests for some time now, since we feel that they entirely inappropriate."

According to Prah, the vests are too heavy. Because they are available in only one size, it is not possible for police officers to wear them while driving. When they arrive at the scene of a tense situation, like that of August 7, there simply isn't enough time for them to put on the vests.

In addition to the weight of the old vests, some of them dating back to 1991, union representatives also raised safety concerns. They argued that the protective material has degenerated and that many of the vests are now older than their designated lifetimes, thereby putting the lives of officers in danger.

In this respect at least, fears turned out to be largely unfounded. Experts from the University of Ljubljana quickly tested the vests using various types of live ammunition. The vests passed the tests, so no recall was initiated.

It's a tough job

Still, police unions insist that more money needs to be spent on equipment for officers. According to union representatives, Slovenia's police force is underfunded, particularly in terms of necessary long-range investments. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, says it's determined to rectify the situation. Ministry officials promise that a wide range of new equipment, including vests, will be purchased by next year - a result of increased funds set aside for this purpose. However, the ministry admits that the police would need far more equipment to be properly equipped. According to the government, that should be addressed by its long-term police equipment strategy, the first of its kind in Slovenia.

The controversy over the vests served as an opportunity for the police to draw media attention to increased dangers facing officers. At a press conference in Ljubljana, Robert Ferenc of the uniformed police administration talked about the increasing rate of attacks against police officers. In the first half of this year, there were almost 10% attacks against police officers than during the same period last year. And in Ljubljana, the number of police officers who have been attacked doubled year-to-year. While attacks with guns remain relatively rare, officers have also been attacked with knives, broken bottles and canes. And with the recession showing no signs of easing, crime in Slovenia is expected to increase.

Police and Politics

Slovenia's police force has also had to deal with political controversy. Despite criticism from opposition parties, which warned of possible politicization of the police, Interior Minister Katarina Kresal introduced amendments to the police act that change the way police commissioners are appointed and expand police powers. Kresal's pick for the commissioner's post, Acting Police Commissioner Janko Goršek, recently announced a complete overhaul of the police force, which has been facing personnel shortages for some time: "After the changes, the police force will no longer be what it is now," he told reporters.

Goršek was also quick to deny allegations that the police force is being used for political purposes by investigating companies close to the opposition, as well as the claim that the investigation of former Prime Minster Janez Janša came about because of Kresal's pressure. (Janša was accused of disclosing classified information by publicly quoting Kresal's statement from a 2007 meeting of party leaders.)

In Slovenia's highly politicized environment, however, separating politics from the public's perception of the police may turn out to be a task even more difficult than the current equipment and personnel shortages.


More from Nekategorizirano