Since last August, the new police patrol has begun to operate on the streets of Tbilisi. Their movements in the evening are especially visible due to the blinking red-blue lights of patrol cars driving along streets. But what did the new face of the police actually change on the streets?
To learn the attitude of Tbilisi residents, the Brosse Street Journal asked about 20 people this question: "Do people feel safe on the streets, especially in the evening?"
Sixty percent of respondents prefer not to be out on the streets in the evening, especially after 9 p.m. 40 percent of them said it was okay.
One respondent, 42-year-old Nato Sikhuralidze, said that she is a cautious person, and therefore does not like to stay on the streets in the evening, especially alone.
"I remember that two years ago my closest friend was robbed on the street in the evening," she said. "Since I heard this, I try not to stay on the streets in the evening. I can do it if my husband is with me, but we prefer to walk on the main streets."
Giorgi Turashvili, 37, said that he played sports in his youth and now feels safe on the streets.
"I was involved in judo for five years in my youth. I can defende myself," he said. Besides, I do not think that the streets of Tbilisi are so dangerous. Obviously in every city there are some streets, Skid Rows, where the probability of being robbed is higher."
Ministry of Internal Affairs officials say there is no danger to be out on the streets of the Georgian capital. According to ministry spokeswoman Dodo Kurtanidze, 1,500 police watch the situation on the streets.
"Since August 15, 2004, the new patrol has been working around the clock," she said. "We have 1,500 patrolmen, of which 600 are in patrol cars. The rest are walking along the streets, in markets, subway stations, etc. The patrolmen give reports every two hours.
"People love the patrol. Sometimes patrolmen follow the drunken people to their house. There are cases in which patrolmen helped children to go home. Recently, a patrolman prevent the suicide of a homeless person who tried to jump from a bridge into the river Mktvari."
According to Kurtanidze, the ministry tested applicants and then gave them as much as three months of training. She says ministry officials often goe out, especially at midnight, and check the work of the patrol.
"Before the new patrol, the situations with hijacking, robbery, housebreaking, pilferage, extortion, etc. were terrible," she said. "But now the number of these criminal acts has decreased. I can say that some criminal acts decreased a lot, because the patrol does its work competently."
The data from the ministry doesn’t agree. According to their figures, in January of 2005, police registered 1,667 criminal acts; during the same period in 2004 this number was 1602. The number of robberies in January of 2005 was 764 (including 317 housebreaks and 74 hijacks), compared to 563 (including 212 housebreaks and 13 hijacks) in 2004.
The number of thefts reported was 94 in January of 2005, compared to 73 in 2004.
Reports of hooliganism dropped from 57 in January of 2004 compared to 37 in 2005, but criminal acts committed by juveniles rose from 24 in Janaury of 2004 to 45 in 2005.
When asked about the statistics, Kurtanidze noted that she was not working at the ministry in January of 2004, and suggested those 2004 figures were probably lower than the actual number of crimes committed.
She said there are some case of theft by juveniles, and that drunken teenagers often start a fight on the streets, especially near the pubs.
"We admit that in the afternoon it is less dangerous than at midnight, especially in the suburbs of Tbilisi. Despite this, if we compare the situation before the new patrol with the current situation, we can say that the situation became better. Before, the criminal groups were getting on the mini-busses and robbing the passengers. Now case like that do not exist," Kurtanidze said.