The Slovenia Times

Police force struggling with staff shortages, long commutes


Ljubljana - Police departments in Slovenia continue to struggle with staffing shortages dating back to austerity measures. The average age of a police officer rises by 4.5 months each year, while unions are warning that many, especially from the east of the country as the main source of the police's workforce, are having to do extremely long commutes.

The police force would need 150-plus new police officers a year to replace those who retire or leave for other reasons, the General Police Directorate (GPU) told the STA amid warnings by trade unions that staffing has been a major challenge.

From 2019, new recruitments have been keeping up with the outflow of staff, but they still fall short of the outflow suffered in previous years, the directorate added, pointing to austerity measures that encouraged early retirement and prevented new employment as the root cause.

Kristjan Mlekuš of the SPS, one of two police trade unions, confirmed that the consequences of these decisions are still felt today, while noting that even before 2006 the decision had been made to mostly employ border patrol staff needed for Slovenia's entry into the Schengen zone.

Staffing at city police departments was completely neglected in the process, Mlekuš added, pointing out that between 150 and 250 new officers were joining the force before "these two mistakes" were committed.

He agrees that the situation has been calming down in the past two years but is worried that it is hard to quickly fix decisions that froze things for an entire decade.

The unionist added that staffing issues are experienced by almost all police departments in the country, while things are hardest at city departments, which are the busiest. Police directorates in Ljubljana, Nova Gorica and Koper, which have thriving economies, have the most acute problems since there is little interest in the profession.

What is more, housing is more expensive in these cities and is out of reach for many young police officers. With most job applications coming from the east of the country, many "are commuting 150 kilometres and more on a daily basis", which is one of the reasons for frequent departures from the force.

The General Police Directorate has been noticing an improvement in employment figures in recent years, attributing it to active employment policies and promotion. A key factor has been the raising of the annual enrolment cap at the Police College from 100 to 300.

Mlekuš has been critical of this strategy, saying it is of little use if the students enrolling are not up to the task. The General Police Directorate indeed confirmed that 56% of the enrolment candidates this year failed the physical fitness test but were given the chance to redo the test later.

Meanwhile, the fresh employment has failed to mitigate the demographic situation in the police force. The average age of a police officer was 43.6 last year, which compares to 41.7 in 2017.

Mlekuš believes the staffing situation is a major challenge for the coming years and expects reasonable measures. The primary focus should be on preventing further departures, especially among the border patrol officers who are currently seeking better social security in other professions.

Andrej Kocbek of the PSS trade union has also been highlighting the problem. He explained that a few weeks ago an initiative was presented to those in charge for a joint meeting focusing on the police units hit worst by staffing shortages.

The General Police Directorate said it was aware that more staffing was needed in the long-term, but added that this was a project for the coming few years.

"In the meantime, we will have to use the staff available and organisational measures to ensure the smooth execution of police duties," the directorate said.


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