The new measures for fighting against crime after the riots of December 2008 in Athens
By Athina Bouziouri, Attorney at law- admitted to the Bar of Athens
The downtown of Athens has often been the theatre of urban violence since the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974 (riots against the Military Junta in 1974, violent manifestations by extremists-black blocs-, riots of December 2008).
The flaws of the Greek national policy for fighting against crime were mostly revealed during the outburst of violence that followed the death of a minor by a police officer on the 6th of December 2008. Reactions, or better social rage, were easy to predict, nevertheless authorities did not manage to control the situation; the country was in the mercy of urban riots for about 10 days.
During the first trimester of 2009, especially in Athens, violence became a daily issue. In response to these riots and crime increase the government took a series of measures:
a) A bill deposed by the Minister of Justice to the Greek Parliament to sanction more severely those who wear a cowl and hide their facial characteristics in general when committing criminal offences against public order, assaults against individuals, destruction or deterioration of goods. The bill is actually under discussion in the Parliament.
b) Recruitment of 1,500 Police agents.
c) Creation of a special police brigade called “DELTA FORCE”, in charge of intervening in case of urban violence in the heart of Athens.
d) Reinforcement of police presence in neighborhoods.
The penalization along with the police reinforcement and the lack of a long-term perspective of the above measures are striking. Much more when committed offences in the framework of urban violence against State and public order are already subject to Penal Code, especially to the sixth chapter ‘offences against public order’ (i.e. crime of participating in a gang, offence of attacking public order etc.) The sixth chapter of the Penal Code was completed in 2001- after the assassination of the British Steven Saunders in 2000 by the terrorist organization ‘17 November’- by disposals that set up a certain legal framework for fighting terrorism. Assaults against individuals and damages of goods (committed by protesters) are also punished according to Penal Code (i.e. assaults against individuals, destructions, deteriorations of goods. Police forces and justice are, above all, in charge of applying criminal law and maintaining public order.
According to the Bar of Athens, the already existing legal and institutional system for fighting crime is enough especially in terms of repression. However, it is often disregarded because of the confusion of competences, lack of coordination and police’s operational incapacity- no doubt, flaws of the Greek mechanism in the fight against crime.
Not even one initiation was ever taken or announced since today concerning the drafting of a real public policy against crime or a dialogue with social actors. In fact, these measures were announced in a media logic and have showed their side effects: in the first trimester of 2009, the capital experienced a crime increase without precedent. Mars 2009 broke all records of criminality ever registered in the city with 1 assassination every 3 days, 2 bank burglaries per day and 110 housebreakings. (Not to mention the abductions and prison invasions).
Criminal law and repression are only two of the tools for fighting against crime and have already failed to stop the increase of violence. For this reason, it is obvious that the appropriate authorities have to revise their anti-criminal policy by enhancing education, justice, penitentiary, urbanism, economy, immigration policy and culture.
 This reality is reflected to the last gallops concerning crime and delinquency in Greece. The majority of Greek population, as indicated in most of the gallops, feels insecure in its own neighborhood (61%) and is afraid of crime increase (79%). At the meantime, the crisis of confidence on the government and police is evident: 69% of Greeks do not trust police and 82% is not satisfied by the way the government handled the urban violence of December 2008.
 Article of the Greek journal ‘Ta Nea’ (The News) on 27/03/09