Pubdate: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
Source: Prague Post (Czech Republic)
Author: Brandon Swanson, Staff Writer, The Prague Post


Prague's Mayor and Police Launch Attacks Against Pickpockets, 
Prostitutes and Drugs

Only after a reporter makes it clear there is no interest in a strip 
show does the man understand.

"Charlie?" Cocaine. Yes.

The man walks over to a group of about a half-dozen others, huddled 
together on Wenceslas Square. It is well past midnight on a typical 
Friday. A second man approaches, asking the same question, then a third man.

"How much do you want?" the third man says.

"A gram." About 75 meters away, two Prague Police officers sit in a 
squad car in plain view.

"Twenty-five hundred," the man says. "I give you sample, you try."

"What about those police?"

He smiles at the naivete of the question and shakes his head. "It's 
not like America, not like England," he says. "Police is not a problem here."

The man is right: Police appear not to pose much of a threat to the 
drug dealers or to the thieves or prostitutes that thrive in the 
heart of the city. And statistics show that such petty crime has been 
on the rise over the past five years.

If Prague City Hall has its way, that trend will soon stop. Mayor 
Pavel Bem and Police President Vladislav Husak recently announced a 
campaign to significantly crack down on street crime around Wenceslas 
Square and nearby Narodni trida.

"Our priority is to make prostitutes, thieves and dealers who gather 
there nervous and thus push them out of the area," Bem said. Also in 
the mayor's long-term plan is a reporting system inspired by a visit 
from former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani in which increased 
information on city crime will give police flexibility.

But Eva Brozova, a spokesman for the police president, said a 
pre-holiday cleanup, for its part, will also hit the square.

"The action taken will not be regular," she said, adding that the 
extra strain it will put on the street officers is too much to maintain.

Thick With Thieves

Police received an average of 20 reports of pickpocketing each day in 
Prague last year, a trend that's been increasing since 2000. At the 
same time, the number of solved pickpocket cases is on the decline -- 
from more than 7 percent in 2000 to less than 3 percent in 2005.

Brozova said pickpocket cases have been on the rise this year because 
of increased numbers of tourists, the most frequent victims of the 
crime. Nearly 3.5 million people visited Prague in 2004, according to 
CzechTourism, and higher numbers are expected this year.

The main problem with pickpockets, and thieves in general, is that 
they often must be caught in the act, said Husak, who officially took 
over as police president in September.

"And even if we do catch someone and hand him over for prosecution, 
the person often walks away with but a symbolic punishment and 
immediately returns to his environment," he said. "And thus the 
circle is complete."

Solved cases have dropped in part, city officials say, because more 
criminals can recognize a police officer they may have encountered 
earlier in their career, and therefore know when to lay low.

Husak said the best way to combat this trend, aside from increasing 
awareness of the problem, is to revamp the force that fights it, 
"maybe even by using new people."

The number of charges for drug-related offenses in Prague has been on 
the rise over the past seven years. According to the Justice 
Ministry, such crime is almost 70 percent higher than it was in 1998. 
The number of sentences for these offenses has increased accordingly.

In the city's current Strategic Plan for Anti-Drug Policies, created 
in 2002, the focus is on prevention at the early stages: namely, 
funding for education and awareness programs.

The policy is directed at the citizens of Prague, but it does nothing 
to stem the demand created by weekend out-of-towners looking for 
another kind of trip.

Increased patrols in Wenceslas Square should do nothing more than put 
a temporary crimp on the market.

While people often have to seek out illicit drugs, prostitutes are 
hard to miss. Streetwalkers openly offer sex on the square, and in 
well-advertised bordellos on Krakovska and V Jame streets, visitors 
can order sexual favors off of printed menus.

One option to combat it, Husak said, is to put more pressure on the 
promoters touting the clubs.

It remains unclear how police or city efforts will crack down on 
prostitution around Wenceslas Square, however; prostitution is 
technically legal in the Czech Republic, though pimping is a crime.

Even the police are skeptical.

"The police will hardly be able to push out prostitution from the 
city center," Brozova said. "We lack the laws that would enable us to do so."

Bem conceded that legislative reform on a national level is needed 
before the problem can be solved.

"Sadly, Parliament has not yet listened to us and many other Czech 
cities combating this negative phenomenon," he said.

"We are determined to continue our legislative attempts, and keep 
permanently and strictly checking prostitutes and their pimps."

Thinking Long Term

"We want Christmas 2005 in Prague to be somewhat more peaceful than 
in the years past," Husak said. But what about down the road?

In its Conception of Crime Prevention report for 2005 08, the city 
says it will center on an "offensive" strategy, putting emphasis on 
fighting crime before it happens rather than punishing crime after the fact.

Part of the plan includes a citywide network of cameras. There are 63 
cameras in the center of Prague and about 300 citywide. City Hall has 
already spent nearly 400 million Kc( ($16.1 million) on the measure, 
which has helped curb crime overall but has had little impact on 
highly visible street crime.

All this has people who work on the square concerned. It's easy to 
find people on Wenceslas Square who are angry about street crime. 
But, because of the connection many believe it has with organized 
crime, getting them to talk about it is another matter.

"These places are run by mafia types and people are scared," said 
Lenka Menc(ikova, front office manager at the Hotel Fenix.

Her hotel is close to Wenceslas Square on Ve Smeckach, the street 
where a reporter was offered cocaine with police in sight.

"It is a little better when the police are here," she said. Officers 
have been posted near the hotel in recent nights.

But Mencikova echoed sentiments repeated around the square. She said 
the hotel and area residents have been pushing for improvements for 
years, and at this point remain unimpressed by cleanup pledges.

"I think it will only be talk," she said.




2,043 charged 1,001 convicted


2,589 charged 1,376 convicted

Source - Interior Ministry
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake