Bring Back the Old Police
02 May, 2013
The end of Shevardnadze's traffic police and the creation of the Patrol Police is one of the most talked about reforms of the former government. There is no more powerful symbol of a clear break with the past. And it worked. Patrol Police continue to be a respected group in Georgia. But Georgia in 2013 is different from Georgia in 2003, so maybe it is time to take a look at the police and see if what we have what
we need.
There needs to be some words about the relationship between the police and prosecutors up until recently. In reality the prosecutors were very powerful and it seemed at times like the police worked for them at least in criminal cases. This system that came to be known as "plea bargaining" had little to do with what it was in the United States was the dominant mechanism to incarcerate young men. The Courts usually had nothing to do with it and those charged almost always admitted guilt. Police participated in this but for this conversation let's discuss the non-criminal aspects of policing.
The best thing about the Patrol Police is that in general they come quickly when they are called and generally act responsibly. That is an enormous transformation from the Shevardnadze era. But they seem to be a largely on-demand police force. The rest of the time, we can see them in their cars, but not much else.

The most immediate difference between the Patrol Police in Georgia and the police force in other countries, is the loud speakers they use from their cars. That is a Soviet tradition not used in the west. You can not be in central Tbilisi for more than a few minutes without hearing the police on a loud speaker barking a command, usually something like "hey, move your car". But it is never clear, is the person who should move their car breaking the law? They why aren't the police writing a ticket? Or is the person not breaking a law but is somehow blocking the Patrol car, so they are telling him or her to move? Those loud speakers to me are a symbol that the police in Georgia are still above the people, rather than the public servants they try to be in older democracies. You can tell by the tone of voice they use from those loud speakers which is the tone an annoyed adult uses with a poorly behaved child.

Patrol police seem to spend 99% of their time in their cars. Even their name imply that they spend time in cars. In general in the US at least, police in cars work traffic infractions, those who speed or break traffic rules. I have rarely seen that here. Every evening there are motorcycles and other cars speeding up and down Rustaveli. Taxis that come in from the airport past the Interior Ministry, often carrying terrified tourists, will frequently drive at over 120 km per hour. Even worse is speeding on very small streets on which children play. Again, I have never seen the police talk to one of those drivers. Drivers often pull around lines of cars at a traffic light, driving into on coming traffic because they don't feel like waiting as long as everybody else. I have never seen a traffic ticket given by the police for this.
The Police often use their loud speakers to tell cars not to block the road but I have never heard them tell a car not to block a sidewalk. Do the patrol police have responsibility for roads but not sidewalks? Are drivers but not pedestrians part of their constituency? Why do the police not write tickets for those who don't buy bus tickets? The system of the people in yellow jackets checking tickets when many people don't buy them, seems like an unusual and not very effective system.

There seem to be a large number of different types of uniforms, some for police, some for guards. I don't know what type of training or authority these guards have. I have seen them tell people to do and not do things well beyond their authority. But these guards or police seem to have much less training than the patrol police. Is this simply a work program by the interior ministry? Who decides who gets those jobs?

So it seems to me the best thing that could happen would be for the Patrol Police when in their cars to start regulating all the dangerous drivers, which they don't seem to do much of now. In fact I am not even sure who has authority for that since it happens so infrequently. And they should get rid of those loud speakers. But just as much, the Patrol Police should get out of their cars more and walk around with the rest of us, they would probably exercise a positive influence, and may learn a few things about how the rest of society is organized outside of cars.