City Police beef up metro patrols, but want more powers to tackle Prague parking chaos

Police presence during the International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings 2000

Now after a few days in Prague - or any other Czech town or city for the matter - you will have noticed that the Czech Republic actually has two police forces. There is of course a nation-wide state police force, which concentrates mainly on fighting crime and directing traffic, and then each town and city has its own separate force, which has less power than the state police and is there mostly to maintain public order. Part of the City Police's beat is the Prague metro, from where Rob Cameron begins this report.

Police presence during the International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings 2000
A brand new metro train pulls out of Prague's Muzeum station, heading south for the housing estates that circle the Czech capital. These sleek, state-of-the-art new trains, all shining glass and gleaming metal, are the latest improvement to an already clean and efficient metro system, which is gradually being extended towards Prague's more distant suburbs. But it's not the comfort or convenience of the Prague metro which is in question, but its safety. The police say there has been a steady rise in the number of offences such as pick-pocketing, begging and vagrancy on the metro, and have introduced more patrols to try and tackle them. Rudolf Blazek is the Prague City Council member for security:

"We want to secure the subway stations and also subway trains, because we know that criminality there was very bad and we had to change it. So started sending more police officers there, minimally 20 police officers at one time, especially at night-time."

That's 20 police officers for the whole of the Prague metro system?

"Yes, it's about 8-10 police officers to one line."

Is that enough do you think?

"I don't think it's enough, but we don't have more policemen! That's the reason. But this step alone has improved the situation in the subway."

Looking at the City Police crime statistics, however, it seems the metro patrols spend most of their time evicting barefoot Romanian beggars, mostly children who beg for money in the metro carriages with the help of some soulful accordion playing. But above ground there is a great deal of work to be done - and one problem is parking. The streets and pavements of the Czech capital are clogged with cars, often parked illegally. Rudolf Blazek explained to me that the City Police wanted more powers to deal with the situation.

"Of course the police can do more, but we'd like to suggest to the parliament that the City Police could have more rights in the solution of parking problems. We'd like the City Police to have the right to tow away cars."

They don't now?

"Right now, no. Only the State Police can. And we want the City Police to have this right, and I think that it would improve the parking situation in the centre. Because right now we know that the parking problems in the centre are horrible. It's crazy."