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Cracks in the thin blue line

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The police are in the spotlight again, with accusations of foul play in the investigation of recent murders, the lack of thorough work in earlier cases and a general absence of officers in blue from public view.

No doubt, detectives did not do their work properly in the past and relied on outdated methods, while a shortage in the police force has increased the burden on the few who do an excellent job in crime fighting and prevention.

On the other hand, scrapping the ‘neighbourhood police’ resulted in the force losing confidence among the general public, made worse by an inability to respond to calls to deal with the dangerous rise in fireworks linked mostly to weddings and home parties.

We’re extremely fortunate that we have not mourned victims or youngster losing an eye or a finger from these crackers, the noise of which is often more terrifying.

The incumbent Justice Minister is desperate for reforms and has already pushed through changes in legislation that would untie the police’s hands when trying to solve major crimes or catch drug lords in the act.

She gained respect by apologising (but not seeking redemption) for the incompetence of police investigators in the murder 17 years ago of young conscript Thanasis Nicolaou. But that is not enough.

Illicit financial activities, such as money laundering and human trafficking, are new crimes requiring new methods and smarter detectives.

Talk of wholesale police reform seems to have hit several snags. Still, with the current administration unwilling to embrace it, the next president will be called to deal with it drastically after February.

Retirements in recent years have outpaced recruits, and the cash-strapped government is cutting back new hirings in security forces, despite maintaining a bloated public service in other areas, resulting in fewer officers in blue in desk jobs or on the street.

Radical reform is needed, outsourcing services that would help improve the efficiency of the police work and hiring civilians for non-essential posts, redirecting policemen and women to more crucial positions.

After that, a major overhaul and retraining of the entire force are necessary, as seen from images of an old-school senior officer groping a woman in an attempt to apprehend her for cruising on a scooter at the recent Independence Day parade.

And let’s not try to make sense of the heroics of fight-hungry officers who used unjustifiably excessive force during several anti-crisis protests while putting aside the shameful handling of the Ayia Napa rape victim, where the entire system collapsed, and nobody knew how to get out of that mess.

The public needs to regain its trust in the police, many of who are impeccable in their duties and actions.

A facelift and genuine overhaul is a necessity, not an option.