Saturday, November 04, 2006

Czech Police and Border Guards:
Like Canada the Czech Republic has two main police forces. These are the state police and the municipal police. The municipal force is divided into regular police units. The actual amount of crime committed in the Czech Republic is minimal compared to the average North American city, so I assume that the traffic unit is actually the busiest. In the week that we stayed in Praha I not only saw no crime, but there wasn't even any evidence of the usual "disorderly conduct" that we see pretty much anywhere in public places here in Winnipeg. I certainly saw such things in Barcelona and in Athens when we were there at other times, but it was at a far lower level there than here, and in the Czech Republic is is pretty well microscopic. Even the Little Stalin Cottage where we stayed was actually quite safe.
The tourist areas of Praha are pretty regularly policed by foot patrols, despite this lack of something to do. The unsettling part was the appearance of patrol teams that looked nothing like ordinary cops. They were dressed head to foot in black and looked altogether more like commandos than cops. This was right down to the assault rifles they carried and the fact they had none of the other usual police gear such as visible handcuffs, clubs, etc.. The semi-automatic weapons they carried looked like they wouldn't make decent clubs. So I guess that if get on their wrong side they basically have one major option. These guys would usually come out when the sun went down. Hey, we are close to Romania after all. They did nothing that I could see except walk around and look intimidating. Well, I guess that you can sum it up by saying that they were just doing nothing, but they definitely were doing it with a sense of style.
Unlike Spanish police they didn't even have to make a serious effort to do nothing. The objective situation carried them along quite well.
The Czech Republic also has a large number of rent-a-cops. Increasingly so do many other places I guess. One section of these actually "does something", the subway ticket checkers. The subways in Praha, like those in Vienna and the public transport in Venice (boats actually) run on the honour system. You are required to buy tickets, but nobody actually checks you at the door to the train, and there are no electronic barriers to entrance. But there are rent-a-cops roaming the system doing spot checks. If you get caught the money for the fine is handed over on the spot. Needless to say the subway systems probably only sees a fraction of what is extorted under these conditions. These guys I actually saw doing something, mostly harassing younger people. What impressed me about them was their size- much bigger than 90% of the Czech cops you see on the street, and more intimidating in their own way than the guys with the assault rifles. When Gary the friendly Gorilla tells you to give him money you fork it over in hopes he won't lose his adjective. Never had a talk with these guys. Never wanted to.
More on public transit and "border guards" in Europe later. That's another great reason to love Praha as is the do nothing nature of the police and the circumstances that lead to same.

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