This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
By Eduard Zaloshnja
Last Friday, IDRA published the results of the third opinion poll regarding police, funded by the Swedish program SCPA (the first opinion poll was held in 2013 and the second one in 2014). An opinion poll carried out with the participation of 2500 respondents all over Albania, suggests that 63% of Albanians have a positive opinion on the State Police performance. I happened to obtain an identical result (62%) in an electronic opinion poll (completely unrelated to IDRA) and funded by the Swedish program SCPA. (In contrast to IDRA’s opinion poll, which aims at monitoring public opinion about police in the long-term, my opinion poll aims to achieve a monthly monitoring.)
According to IDRA, compared to 2013, the number of respondents who have a positive opinion on the general performance of state police has doubled. The number of respondents who believe that police treats citizens with respect or the number of respondents who believe that police is preventing criminal offenses and road offenses has also doubled.
In other words, the statistics provided by IDRA indicate that in the past five years, the public’s perception on police has improved significantly.
According IDRA’s latest opinion poll, 61% of Albanians still believe that police is influenced by politics. The opinion poll is unable to identify the reasons why Albanians believe this, but they may relate to the fact that political changes have also led to a replacement of the heads of police. The Albanian public (the same as the European public opinion) will view police as not affected by politics once there’s stability in police leading structures, regardless of political changes.
According to IDRA’s opinion poll, the public’s readiness to collaborate with police is low, while its expectations for police are high. This finding of the opinion poll suggests that the perception surrounding police during the communist regime (police were considered to be as a means of repression against the population) continues to exist. Also, the low levels of court convictions against those who are caught by police may also affect the public’s fear to collaborate with police. (Reporting a crime may be a dangerous thing for the person reporting it if the criminal is not convicted by the courts).
The removal of corrupt people from the courts (through the vetting process) may act as an encouragement for the public to denounce criminals in the future.
According to IDRA’s opinion poll, as far as bribery among police is concerned, the public has mixed opinions. This indicates that this phenomenon continues to survive despite the improved public perception about police performance in the past five years.
In the future, removing corrupt police officials (through the vetting process) could make Albanians less inclined to offer bribes to police officials and police officials may be less inclined to demand bribes.
Finally, I’d like to say a few words about a phenomenon which has not been at the focus of IDRA’s opinion poll.
The US ambassador to Tirana has publicly declared that 20 powerful criminal gangs involved in the traffic of drugs, human beings, stolen cars all over Europe, operate in Albania. These criminal groups have become very powerful and very hard to be destroyed (although they have started to be dismantled). While the activity of these groups may not have a direct impact on the lives of common people, they’re like a cancer for a normal development of the country. For as long as they export crime and insecurity to our western neighbors and they invest their illicit profits in Albania, the development of the country and its European integration continue to be at risk.
The European Union may decide to open Albania’s accession talks at the end of this month or in December, but during the time these negotiations take place, it will continue to put pressure on us in order to fight organized crime and its connections with senior state officials.
The fight against powerful mob groups in particular and organized crime in general, will be the most difficult long-term challenge of the Albanian police.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy