Police reform on the roll, despite continuing controversy

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek

A significant reorganization of the police force was launched on Monday with the merger of the two elite crime fighting units into a National Centre against Organized Crime. The move, which will bring the police’s organized crime and anti-corruption units under joint administration, sparked a major row in the ruling coalition and raised concerns regarding possible intervention into open sensitive cases.

Milan Chovanec,  Photo: Filip Jandorek
The 900-strong National Centre against Organized Crime is to centralize the fight against corruption and economic crime, terrorism and extremism, organized crime and cybercrime. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec believes that the work of hereto separate units will be more efficient if they are directed from a single headquarters.

“The merger will bring detectives from two elite units under joint administration –and the reason is that the units have not been cooperating as well as police management would expect.”

Tomáš Tuhý,  Photo: Filip Jandourek,  ČRo
News of the planned merger sparked the worst crisis in the ruling coalition to date. The second strongest party ANO accused its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, who hold the Interior Ministry, of undermining the independence of the squad for fighting organized crime, which did not report its findings to top management for fear of leaks. Its head Robert Šlachta resigned in protest of the planned reform saying it was intended to bring his team under political control and paralyze ongoing investigations. He moreover announced that he had evidence of links between the police and the criminal underworld. A Parliamentary commission set up to investigate the accusations met on Friday for a nine-hour session in which Mr. Šlachta and another former high placed officer presented their evidence.

Opposition to the police shake-up also came from the Supreme State Attorney’s Office which said it had not been consulted about the changes in advance. The reform was put off by a month in order to allow state attorneys to table reservations and make suggestions. Among the changes they demanded was that state attorneys should be able to choose the detectives with whom they wanted to cooperate with on sensitive cases. They also asked for guarantees regarding the protection of classified information. Police President Tomas Tuhý said he could guarantee that the investigation of sensitive open cases would not be affected by the change; they are to be handled by the same officers as hereto who remain in their present positions and headquarters. The former head of the squad for fighting organized crime Robert Šlachta remains convinced that the move was aimed to curb his team which spared neither top politicians nor police officers in its quest for justice.

Robert Šlachta,  Photo: ČTK
“Some may argue that only six detectives have left the squad so the damage is minimal. But these six detectives are top professionals. For instance, one of them was in charge of the Vidkun scandal in Olomouc, where police are suspected of sweeping major corruption cases under the carpet. That is clearly a loss. I think the damage caused by this reform is irreversible.”

With the reform now on roll, all eyes are on the Parliamentary committee investigating the accusations made. Apart from the fact that its members are bound to secrecy, the committee itself has no powers but to assemble information and issue recommendations. The reform, which was launched today and should last until 2020, is unlikely to be affected by its outcome.