Polishing the image of Slovakia's police force

The Slovak police force has been in the public eye in recent years - but not always for the right reasons: Its image has been damaged by a series of incidents including officers being implicated in armed robberies and drink-driving. The government was so concerned they brought priests into the force to raise moral standards and have a sobering effect on officers. And it may be working.

As you can hear the police are alert and very much in the public eye in Slovakia these days. A team of policemen won a nation wide IQ test organized by a popular TV station. The brightest policeman in the team managed to defeat a famous neurosurgeon who was the most intelligent representative on the celebrity team. It was the most recent item of good news for the Slovak police. Citizens trust the police more and more according to the findings of a recent opinion poll. In September the institution had a positive image in the eyes of one out of three Slovaks. This means an improvement of almost 10 percent since June last year. Olga Gyarfasova, a sociologist with the Institute for Public Affairs, a Bratislava based think tank, which took part in the research, says these results need to be analysed very carefully

"This increase reflects some very useful, maybe tough steps, which were undertaken by the Minister. He started with ten points programme and among them there were efforts to be really tough with those policemen breaking the law. And the second thing I think is important in this evaluation is that the Ministry of Interior is very successful in fighting against mafia and organised crime."

The bad image the police got in the past is not so easy to forget for some Slovaks who believe that the reform of the police as an institution is too slow for them to start trusting it yet. Indeed. Only a few weeks after the publication of the study showing increased trust in the police, investigators in the eastern Slovak town of Kosice had accused five police officers from the local police road traffic department of corruption. But Olga Gyarfasova says that the fact that they were caught, and the case got into the media, is in fact good public relations for the police and the Ministry of the Interior.

"Each Ministry should sell each positive step it makes because recently the public hasn't seen many positive steps from the side of the government and maybe that's why the findings about police were so underlined because this is really an exception among all the government institutions."

However, mentality remains the biggest obstacle in the efforts to reform the Slovak. Its new recruitment policy is to try to bring fresh air into the institution. And last success at the IQ test show proves that the change has started to bear fruits.