POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


R I Mawby

The extent of crime in post-communist societies is the subject of some debate. In general it seems that levels of recorded crime have escalated but it is arguable that at least some of the increase is due to changes in reporting and recording practices. Victim survey data moreover suggests that there are marked differences in crime rates, both between post-communist societies and for different offences. What is clear, though, is that public concern about crime is evident throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the public sees crime as a major problem. This raises a number of questions about crime control. Principally, how feasible is it to move towards more liberal policies when public concern is so great?

The research reported on here is a cross-national study of one crime, burglary, that occurred in 1993 - 94. Six cities in four countries were originally covered: from Western Europe, Salford and Plymouth (England) and Monchengladbach (Germany), from Eastern Europe, Warsaw and Lublin (Poland) and Miskolc (Hungary). Research is currently taking place in a seventh city, Prague. Victim samples were drawn from police records and interviewed about crimes and their subsequent experiences with agencies such as the police. Discussions also took place with representatives of the police and other agencies such as victim support.

This paper focuses on victims' feelings about the crime and their assessments of the police, by addressing two general questions:

  1. How far do victims from East and West share similar experiences and perceptions?
  2. To what extent are their assessments of the police influenced by policing traditions, to what extent by their perceptions of the crime problem and to what extent by the services provided by the police today?


In recent years, the position of the victim in the criminal justice process has been considerably enhanced and a number of studies have identified the emergence of victim services both in the UK and other Western societies, such as the US and Canada (Mawby & Gill 1987; Rock 1986; Rock 1990). Developments in Europe, particularly in the West but also in Eastern Europe have also been noted and accelerated through Council of Europe and United Nations initiatives as well as groups specifically created to promote international co-operation, such as the European Forum for Victim Services (First European Conference of Victim Support Workers 1989; HEUNI 1989; Joutsen 1987; Mawby & Walklate 1994; Waller 1988).

A number of studies have indicated that victims have very clear ideas about police performance and in many cases see the police as failing to address their own priorities vis a vis the crime situation (Maguire 1982; Shapland, et al 1985), and in England and Wales British Crime Surveys (BCS) provide recent evidence of growing public dissatisfaction with the police, albeit among a minority of victims (Mawby 1991; Mayhew, et al 1989; Mayhew, et al 1993; Skogan 1990). Yet, with the notable exception of the Netherlands (Hauber & Wemmers 1987; Wemmers & Zeilstra 1991; Winkel 1989), we know very little about alternative models of service provision by the police in other societies outside the Anglo-Saxon/North American experiences. It is difficult, therefore, to assess how far alternative police systems may be better adapted to providing services that the public appreciate. In particular, little is known of victims perspectives' in Continental police systems, in both Eastern and Western Europe.

The dramatic political changes in Eastern European have impacted upon law and order in at least four ways. First, widespread public unrest has led to a challenge to legal authorities in an explicit fashion, something that would not have been contemplated a few years ago. Second, changes to the political structure have made the problem of crime more of an issue than in the past, whether because of an actual increase in crime, a more open review of the extent of crime, or a mixture of both (Mawby 1990). Third, these political changes have implications for the criminal justice system and its organisation; for example, with major reviews of the operation and functioning of the police. Finally, shifts away from state monopolies towards a market economy raise a number of questions about the adequacy of welfare policies and the role of the state, private sector, voluntary sector and local community in meeting needs, in the context of the criminal justice vis a vis victim services. At the same time, the implications of 1992 for countries within the European Community have raised questions about international co- operation between agencies, centralisation and co-ordination of service planning and delivery, and equality of provision between countries, in areas such as policing and victim services (Fijnaut 1992; 1993; King 1993), an issue of wider concern if Eastern Europe countries join the EC.

While official statistics have often been used to provide some comparisons between different countries, variations in definitions of crime and in the way victims, police and other agencies deal with 'their' crime make such comparisons hazardous. Comparison of national victim surveys is equally problematic (Block 1983), but until recently comparative victim surveys have been rare (for one exception see Arnold & Korinek 1991). The international victim survey, first carried out in 1989 (Van Dijk, Mayhew & Killias 1990) and repeated in 1992 (Del Frate, et al 1993), therefore makes a major breakthrough by providing a more valid picture, one that is not distorted by variations in definitions of crime and reporting practices. Further, it allows for some assessment of victims' experiences of their crimes, including their views on police involvement and the intervention (or non-availability) of other agencies.

The overall picture painted by these surveys is of marked variations in crime throughout the world. For example, in developing societies rates appear relatively high in Africa and South America, lower in Asia. In developed capitalist societies, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada appear to have high rates, whilst Switzerland, Finland and Japan have comparatively low crime rates. Most of Western Europe, in comparison, have rates somewhere between these extremes, yet somewhat higher than those in Central and Eastern European countries.

As well as providing a general framework within which national crime patterns can be located, the international surveys provide further information, for example on reporting behaviour, fear of crime, attitudes towards the police and public views on alternative sentences. Nevertheless it is almost inevitable that such surveys can only address these issues on a very basic level. In order to curtail costs, in developed societies the surveys have used telephone interviews with relatively small samples. Whereas one result of the former is a variable response rate, poor in some countries such as England and Wales, a more fundamental restriction is the limited number of questions that can be asked. Moreover, while targets of 1500 completed interviews in most countries sound impressive, the fact that only a minority of respondents have suffered specific types of crime recently has two consequences. First, most international comparison of recent crime is restricted to overall crime levels; second, where international differences in specific crimes are addressed, data are used for crimes over a five year period. A further restriction in response details is imposed by the research design, where victims are only asked about their reactions for their most recent crime. Consequently differences in response between countries may be due as much to the different types of crime experienced as to differences caused by national influences. Take, for example, burglaries, excluding attempts, which are defined as affirmative answers to the question, 'Did anyone actually get into your house or flat without permission and steal or try to steal something?'. On average, the 1992 survey unearthed about 50 burglaries per country. Drawing inferences on the nature of burglary in a given country is thus hazardous. Moreover, since not all these burglaries will have been reported to the police and not all those that have been reported will be included in the follow-up questions, police response to burglaries in different countries cannot be assessed through the international survey.

Another limitation arises when we seek to explain differences that do emerge. Just as the British Crime Survey has been criticised for providing an overall picture that fails to identify, much less account for, small area patterns (Crawford, et al 1990), so the international survey tends to restrict itself to description and avoid explanation of national patterns. Thus, for example, variations in reporting rates and attitudes towards the police are noted, but are not related to different police structures and traditions in the countries under review.

It would be unfair to criticise the international survey for this. It was not intended as a mechanism for explaining national patterns, but rather as a means for allowing national experiences to be located in a wider context. Indeed, for this reason it provides an excellent backcloth to more detailed comparative analysis, using a more focused approach.


In contrast to the international survey, we decided to compare the experiences of crime victims by concentrating on one specific offence in a limited number of countries. The choice of countries was to a certain extent fortuitous, coming as it did from discussions among the team (to be) at an international conference in Warsaw in 1991./1/(1) However, there seemed to us a certain logic in comparing two countries from Western Europe (England and Germany) with two countries from Eastern and Central Europe (Poland and Hungary). The fact that the latter two countries also had centralised police forces, whilst England and Germany had, to some extent, elements of local control (Mawby 1992), was an additional point of contrast. Furthermore, specialist agency support for victims varied between the four countries.

Having decided to concentrate on four countries, we then decided to focus on a small number of cities in these countries. One of our reasons here was practical, in that we did not have the resources for national coverage. On the other hand though, we felt that by restricting ourselves in this way we would overcome some of the difficulties experienced by the British Crime Survey and international survey. We could consider victims' experiences in the context of the areas in which they lived and relate them to local policies and local agencies with which they might (or might not) have had contact. We therefore took two cities in each of England and Poland and one from Germany and Hungary. Monchengladbach in Germany and Miskolc in Hungary are both industrial cities of some quarter of a million inhabitants. In England, Plymouth is a similarly sized city with a rural hinterland, while Salford is a city of 230, 000 within the Manchester metropolitan area. In Poland, Lublin is, like Plymouth, a city in more rural surroundings although with 330,000 inhabitants somewhat larger. In Warsaw we originally intended to focus on one of the seven police districts, which again has a population of about 250,000, but for operational reasons subsequently included the whole city.

In addition we decided to restrict our survey to one offence, household burglary, using the international victim survey definition. We also excluded burglary when associated with more serious offences (e.g. rape or robbery) or aggravated burglary of corporate premises and attempted burglary, that is, where entry is attempted but not effected. By so doing we were concerned to ensure that variations in the findings were not artefacts of the different crimes experienced in difference countries. By choosing burglary, we concentrated on an offence which is considered relatively serious, has marked effects on many victims and is commonly reported to the police.

Our survey was also restricted to crimes reported to the police. This meant that we were unable to consider unreported crimes or control for reporting variations between countries. However, we were most concerned both with the impact of the crime on the victim and the experiences of victims at the hands of the police and other agencies, rather than crime rates and saw our survey as complementary to the international victim survey.

Members of the research team met with representatives of the police and victim service agencies. These meetings were used both to conduct semi-structured interviews with key people and to ensure that the research was being set up in similar ways in the different countries and cities. These semi-structured interviews provided us with a fuller grounding in the work of police and victim-service agencies, and the perceptions certain key workers held of burglary and its victims. However the main research methodologies involved analysis of police records and extensive structured interviews with samples of victims drawn from police records.

The questionnaire was designed to relate to the experiences of burglary victims in all of the countries, although for those countries where the public prosecutor played a key role an additional series of questions was added. Open ended questions were included, but pre-coded questions were most common because of their practicality. In some cases, pre-coded alternatives varied between countries. However, such exceptions apart we aimed to ask the same questions throughout and, to ensure accuracy in translation, we aimed to have questionnaires translated from English into each of the other languages and the back into English by a different translator to enable cross-checking.

The difficulties associated with carrying out comparative international research are legion, but are multiplied when we attempt to make international comparisons based on secondary data analysis and limited to a reading of authors (or even just English-writing authors) covering a particular topic (Mawby 1990). To date two problems have surfaced that we felt that our approach would enable us to overcome.

The first of these concerns the problem of drawing together background material on which to base the current study. As already noted, the international victim survey provides a general overview and included Germany (in 1989) and Poland, but did not cover Hungary. However, there is little else available in English on victims' experiences in Hungary and Poland and in the context of police structures and functions Hungarian material is minimal (see for example Rudas 1977; Ward 1984) and Polish almost non-existent (for a recent exception see Fogel 1994). A collaborative project of this kind therefore allows us to draw on the specialist knowledge of researchers in each of the countries, incorporating everyday experiences with awareness of relevant material not translated into English.

The second problem we encountered relates to the question of definition. While the international victim survey uses a British definition of burglary, legal and practical definitions of burglary or breaking and entering vary markedly between countries, and thus the extent of burglary as defined in police statistics makes for misleading comparison. Indeed, definitions influence the data at two stages: in law and in the classification of crimes in police statistics. To illustrate the difficulties we may take the English and German definitions as examples.

In England the definition of burglary of a dwelling includes the following:

  1. Break in to home through door or window.
  2. Use other method (e.g. credit card) to enter through locked door or window without causing damage.
  3. Enter through an open window.
  4. Enter through an open door.
  5. Enter without permission, where the offender used trickery to gain access.

In contrast, in Germany, only the first three examples given here are defined by law and statistical classification as the same, falling (for crime against dwellings) under legal code 243 and classification 435; in fact, while entry through an open window is categorised in this way, it is commonly referred to as 'einstiegen' rather than burglary. Moreover, examples (iv) and (v) are covered by legal code 242 and classified as 335, being generally defined as simple theft.

While in Hungary and Poland definitions of burglary were rather more like those in Germany, they also differed in some respects. For the purposes of our research then, access to a sampling frame proved more difficult in some countries than in others and required scrutiny of cases defined as simple theft as well as burglary. In a wider context, though, this one example demonstrates the difficulties in drawing international comparisons based on secondary material. If studies use different definitions of burglary, then it would not be surprising to find not only that rates of burglary appeared to vary, but also that victims' experiences differed between countries.

This paper focuses on findings from the interview survey. In total, 1194 were conducted, 200 in Plymouth, 134 in Salford, 257 in Monchengladbach, 198 in Warsaw, 200 in Lublin and 207 in Miskolc, although in the latter 63% involved break-ins to weekend homes and have been excluded from this analysis. The data have also been reweighted to allow for the different sample sizes and slightly different gender balances. Analysis is therefor based on readjusted totals of 100 men and 100 women from each of the cities.

In the following three section some of the key findings are presented. First, the crime problem is discussed in terms of the extent of crime, the impact of the crime on victims and concerns about the future. Then victims' perceptions of the police are considered. Finally the similarities and differences between the four countries are discussed and some attempts made to explain them.


It is difficult to assess the extent of the crime problem in one society; cross-national comparisons are fraught with additional difficulties. Police statistics, notoriously unreliable at the best of times, are especially problematic in a comparison of post-communist societies, where in the past data were either unavailable or massaged to create a favourable picture. The overall impression, however, is that recorded crime rates were generally lower in Eastern European countries than in Western Europe, but rose dramatically at the end of the 1980s (Bartnicki 1989; Fogel 1994; Jasinski and Siemaszko 1995; Kalish 1988; Vigh 1987), scarcely surprising given the dramatic social, political, economic and cultural changes taking place (Jasinski 1995).

Victim survey data available from Germany (Kury 1993), confirm this picture vis a vis differences between East and West Germany. However ICS data for England and Wales, Germany and Poland provide a slightly different impression. For example the burglary rate appears highest in England and Wales, lowest in Germany (Del Frate et al 1993). Additionally, perhaps due to the rise in recorded crime and unstable social conditions, the ICS also suggests that fear of and concern over crime is high in post-communist societies.

Our own research supports some, but not all of these findings. Impressionistically it seemed that reported burglaries were most common in England, least in Hungary and Poland. While some of the difference here may be due to under-reporting or under-recording, it appears unlikely that these account for all of the difference. For example, when we asked victims whether or not they had been the victim of another burglary within the preceding five years, the proportions answering in the affirmative was about twice as high in England as in the other three countries. While not conclusive, this at least suggests that burglary may be less common in Hungary, Poland and Germany.

Be this as it may, our survey findings indicate that victims in Poland and Hungary were at least as affected by the crimes as were those from England and Germany. For example in each city over 90% of respondents said that they or someone else in their household had been emotionally affected by the crime, and while 54% overall said they themselves had been personally affected 'very much' those from Lublin (72%), Warsaw (65%) and Miskolc (61%) were most likely to say this. The financial impact of the crime was also most evident in Poland where a significantly lower proportion of victims were covered by insurance. Thus while overall 61% were covered, this fell to 39% in Lublin and 35% in Warsaw; and while 21% of all victims said that insurance fully covered their loss, only 3% and 0% respectively said this in Lublin and Warsaw.

Victims from Poland and Hungary were also more likely to express feelings of lack of safety or worry about future crime. For example they were more likely to say they felt unsafe home alone or walking out alone after dark, and were also more worried about the prospect of a future burglary, robbery or vandalism to the home. This is illustrated in tables 1 and 2 for burglary and robbery worries.

Concerns about crime were to some extent underpinned by concerns about the wider environment within which victims lived. Thus while German respondents expressed themselves most satisfied with their area of residence and there were minimal differences between the other three countries, in other respects Polish victims were least positive about the locality. For example while 18% of respondents overall said they were definitely likely to move, 30% from Warsaw and 26% from Lublin said so. And while 25% of all respondents felt they lived in an area where people generally helped each other and 44% felt people tended to 'go their own way' in Warsaw and Lublin considerably less felt the former and more the latter (see table 3). It seems than that overall victims from Poland especially were most likely to be affected by the crime, most likely to express concern about the prospect of future crime, and most likely to see their area of residence as providing least support against crime.


If crime is a problem, the police may be seen as part of the solution. But public expectations of the police, and perceptions of appropriate policing policies and practices, may vary considerably between societies. While interaction with burglary victims is only one aspect of police work, we might nonetheless expect to find variations between countries with different policing traditions and different public expectations.

In terms of the way the police became involved in the incident, there were broad similarities between countries. Almost all crimes were reported to the police by victims or others acting on their behalf, and 94% said that it was likely that they would report a future burglary to the police. In most cases reporting was by phone, although use of centralised emergency phone numbers was more common in some cities (Salford and Miskolc), less in others (Warsaw and Lublin). Moreover although overall only 10% of victims reported the crime by visiting the police station in person, this was more common in the three Eastern European cities, where about 17% did so.

In almost all cases the police visited the crime scene. However the speed of response varied. Overall 28% of victims said the police responded within 20 minutes of the crime being reported, with this being most common in Miskolc (42%) and Salford (41%), least in Warsaw (15%) and Lublin (16%). In 23% of cases the police did not attend for at least 80 minutes, such delays being most common in Warsaw (44%) and Plymouth (32%). On average police response was quickest in Miskolc, slowest in Warsaw.

There was also considerable variation in the nature of police response. In England, uniformed officers were almost always involved, whereas in Germany and Poland in particular plainclothes officers most frequently attended burglaries and in many cases no uniformed officers were involved. While details of the investigation were only partly covered in our survey, it also seemed that bureaucratic procedures were most extensive in Hungary and especially Poland, with victims having to attend the station to sign statements and - in Poland - in many cases locks were removed for 'analysis' and premises sealed. Such measures may sometimes be interpreted as meticulous policework, but our impression was that in Poland victims often saw this as a nuisance. Certainly there was no evidence that detection rates improved in such circumstance. Overall only 7% of victims said the police cleared up their burglary. That said, however, detection rates were highest in Miskolc (17%) and Lublin (12%), lowest in Monchengladbach (1%) and Warsaw (3%).

Speed of response and detection methods underpin victims' evaluations of police performance. We asked a number of questions directly about the way police dealt with the complaint. For example, we asked whether victims had been kept well informed of police progress and if they felt they should have been kept better informed; whether the police had put sufficient effort into the case; whether the police had responded quickly enough; and how satisfied they were overall. Responses to this last question are given in table 4. We then constructed a scale based on these four items, where those critical of the police on all four would score 4, those uncritical on all four 0 (table 5).

Table 4 and 5 illustrate the marked variations between victims in the different cities. In general victims from Poland expressed considerably more criticism than those from the other three countries, including Hungary. Differences were also evident when we asked those who expressed any satisfaction what it was about the police that they felt negatively towards, using a precoded check-list. Overall victims were most likely to cite lack of feedback (23%), the fact that the crime was undetected (22%), the property not being recovered (21%), and criticism that the police did not do enough (15%) or were not interested (13%). However while lack of feedback was one of the most common criticisms in all four countries, in other respects the emphasis was different. Most notably, whereas in England victims were also most likely to criticise the police because they 'did not do enough' or were 'not interested', in Poland the most common complaints were that the crime was not detected and that property was not recovered.

Criticisms of the way the police dealt with a specific complaint are of course intimately bound to overall feelings about the police. We asked a number of questions on this, which generally suggested that victims in the Western European cities were most positive in their evaluations than those from Central and Eastern Europe. For example, we asked respondents to select up to three occupations from a list of twelve that they most admired. In England and Germany the police ranked third on this list, being selected by 24 - 27% of respondents; in Poland and Hungary they ranked rather lower, being selected by 15% of victims in Miskolc, 11% in Warsaw and 7% in Lublin.

It seems that Hungarian victims were less positive about the police in general than they were about the way the police dealt with their complaint. This is confirmed where we asked wether contact had made respondents 'feel more or less favourable to the police in general'. In Poland almost four times as many victims responded in the negative compared with the positive; In Hungary 30% said they contact had improved their views of the police while only 9% said they now felt more critical.

While in this respect there is a marked difference between Hungary and Poland, in terms of police 'victim-proneness' it was clear that public images of the police had improved in both countries. For example, we asked respondents how sympathetic they felt the police were when dealing with victims of (i) burglaries (ii) disasters like fires and floods (iii) rape and sexual assault. Although responses varied with each situation, overall respondents from Poland and Hungary were about as likely as those from England to see the police as sympathetic and it was in Germany, with its militaristic policing tradition, that victims were least likely consider the police sympathetic. We then asked whether, over the last few year, 'the police have got better or worse at handling the victims of crime'. As is clear from table 6, victims from Poland and (especially) Hungary were likely to register an improvement rather than a deterioration in this respect.

What is clear from the above is that police practices, and recent changes in police response to burglary victims, vary in a number of ways between the four countries and that victims' perceptions of the police, both in general and re this particular incident, also vary. There are indeed at least as many differences between Poland and Hungary as there are similarities and some differences are also evident between England and Germany. The next section therefore covers two related issues: how do we account for victims' perceptions of the police in Central and Eastern Europe, how do we explain the marked differences between Poland and Hungary.


There would appear to be at lest three ways in which the distinctive patterns might be explained. First there is the argument that public perceptions of the police in some post- communist societies might be influenced by tradition; that the 'repressive' police of communist societies have survived the transition. Second is the suggestion that different perceptions of the police reflect different standards and levels of police performance. Third is the claim that perceptions of the police are closely linked to perceptions of the crime problem.

The first argument is persuasive in explaining the lower public esteem enjoyed by the police in both Poland and Hungary. Despite concerted attempts in both countries to change police personnel, the structure of the police, political connections, roles and accountability (Fogel 1994; Jasinski and Siemaszko 1995; Timoranszky 1992), changes are inevitably slow and difficult. It is however possible that public perceptions may be affected by 'defining moments'; that is, high profile events whereby the police are clearly identified as supporting the old or new order. One such example from Hungary concerns the refusal by the police in 1990 to obey the orders of the Ministry of Interior to use firearms to dispense a protest by striking taxi-drivers. This rejection of what was seen as direct political interference may well have led to the 'new' police gaining public credibility and may partially explain the different public perceptions we found between Hungary and Poland. On the other hand, both quantitative analysis and more qualitative examination of our interviews suggest that in both countries victims drew a clear distinction between the 'old' and 'new' police. On one level this is illustrated by the example of 'victim-proneness', where many victims identified improvements in police response. On another level it is reflected in verbatim comments made in the course of the interviews. For example:

'They were nicer and kinder than seven years ago' (MISK4069).
'They are more kind. They don't consider themselves to be above everybody now' (LUB6027). 'They are more tolerant and gentle' (WAR23).

If public perceptions of the police are not entirely explained in terms of memories of the repressive police of communist regimes, how far is it possible to explain differences in terms of actual variations in the quality of police services? In some respects this is plausible. For example, in Warsaw at least police response was slow, leading to victim criticism, and in Hungary and especially Poland (see Mawby et al 1997) the bureaucracy involved in filing a complaint was considerable. Detection rates were also higher in Miskolc than in Poland, which might provoke more criticism in the latter. Moreover, where inadequacies were compounded by the attitudes expressed by the police at the time, it is easy to understand victims' complaints. Take for example two Warsaw cases where victim criticisms centred on slow police response and an undetected crime respectively:

'Five to six hours - very late. They explained that they had something very important to do' (WAR9). 'Police's declaration that practically nothing can be done in this case. So they left you with such an attitude, what can you expect?' (WAR618).

However while poor police services combined with an inappropriate attitude in explaining inadequacies may partly account for differing levels of criticism, it is scarcely adequate as the sole explanation. For example, detection rates in England and Germany were at least as bad as in Poland, and response times in Lublin were not particularly poor. What then of the third explanation: that perceptions of the police are related to concern over the crime problem?

The fact that victims in Central and Eastern Europe, and Poland in particular, were more concerned about the crime problem, more worried about future crime, and more affected by their current burglary, has already been noted. It is thus not surprising to find that those on whom crime had the most impact, those most worried about crime, and those most dissatisfied with their current residences, are most critical of the police. This illustrated in table 7, where mean scores on the scale measuring criticisms of the police have been contrasted for a range of relevant measures. For example, victims from Poland were most likely to say they had been seriously affected by the burglary; those most affected were most critical of the police; Polish victims were most critical of the police. Polish victims were least likely to be covered by insurance, uninsured victims were most critical of the police; not surprisingly, then, Polish victims were not only most critical of the police but focused their criticisms on the inability of the police to clear up the crime and recover their property.

This is however only one strand to the link between crime and evaluations of the police. Another is the extent to which the police may be blamed for the crime problem. One element here is the feeling that respondents are vulnerable because the police are ineffective - even if they are more sensitive than in the past! For example:

They were polite, but they didn't find the perpetrator' (MISK5076).

As one victim said when asked what was the worst thing about the burglary:

'Lack of feeling safe. The police's inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the work' (LUB7).

A key feature here is the implication that the former repressive police, for all their faults, were at least efficient. While this is questionnaire, the inefficiency of the police in communist society was certainly not as public. A second, crucial element here though is the feeling that the police in post-communist societies have lost power and are thus less well equipt to respond to the crime problem:

'We ain't in a safe area and the police is powerless' (MISK6031).
'Feeling of harm, hopelessness, frustration. There is nobody that can help. The police is helpless; they have the excuse that the law is too lenient and they can do nothing' (LUB113).
'There was someone we suspected but the police didn't act. They told us they can't enter anybody's house without the prosecutor's consent and he wouldn't give it' (WAR224).

This was most evident in relations to questions taken from the British Crime Survey, where we asked victims if they felt the police treated people they suspected of crimes 'more fairly than a few years ago, or less fairly'. For many Polish respondents, this question was meaningless: the key issue was that the police were now too soft on suspects/offenders, as the following quotations illustrate:

'The rights of the police are too limited' (LUB25).
'The policemen take care of the criminals and not the victims' (LUB6016).
'The rights of the police are too little. Offenders feel exempt from punishment' (WAR219).
'From my point of view they are less fair - unsuccessful and helpless' (WAR315).
'Now if they don't have any definite evidence against the offender, they do nothing' (WAR630).

In one sense, ironically, it seems that concern over crime in post-communist Poland has led to the public reacting with a nostalgic reinterpretation of the work of the 'old' police, when crime was apparently under control. In another sense, though, it is easy to identify similar concerns in Western society, but where the blame is attached to the courts and criminal justice process as a whole, not the police. That is, the low public esteem held by the police in the past in Poland may mean that they are more readily blamed for the problems victims experience; in England where the police have traditionally enjoyed high public esteem, lenient courts and 'soft' sentencing may bear the brunt of criticisms. In this context it is interesting to note that in our survey victims from Hungary and England tended to be less critical of the police, but more punitive in their sentencing preferences, while victims from Poland were more critical of the police but less inclined to favour punitive sentences.

Clearly this does not fully account for the differences in public perceptions of the police, especially the marked differences between Poland and Hungary. However, while police traditions and current practices may to some extent account for present patterns, it seems that differences are more adequately explained in terms of victims' concerns about crime and their willingness to blame the police for these.


Table 1. Percentage of Victims Worried about 'Having your home broken into and something stolen'

                 Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


Very worried        25          34           42          45          50         43         40

Fairly worried      45          41           37          44          43         45         43

Not very/not        29          25           21          11           7         12         17

at all


Table 2. Percentage of Victims Worried about 'Being mugged and robbed'

                 Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


Very worried        20          38           33          47          40         33         35

Fairly worried      21          25           29          39          47         38         33

Not very/not        58          37           36          14          13         23         30

at all


Table 3. Percentage of Victims who described relationships in their neighbourhood in the following ways

                 Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


Help each           30          18           47          11           7         39         25


Go own way          47          48           27          67          51         23         44

Mixture             23          34           26          18          33         36         28


Table 4. Percentage of Victims expressing different levels of Overall Satisfaction

                 Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


Very satisfied      19           7           17           1           3         20         11

Fairly              58          54           56          17          20         55         44


Fairly              14          22           11          45          39         13         24


Very                 8           9            8          21          20          2         11


Too soon to          0           2            0           6           7          5          3



Table 5. Mean Scores on Scale of Police Criticism (0 - 4)

           Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


             1.18         1.53        0.96        2.47        2.61       0.79        1.6


Table 6. Percentage of Victims who felt Police handling of Victims had changed

                 Plymounth    Salford     Monchen      Warsaw      Lubin     Miskolc      Total


For the better      25          34           42          45          50         43         40

For the worse       45          41           37          44          43         45         43


Table 7. Mean Scores on Scale of Police Criticism, acording to Crime Porblem

Insured                      Yes                    1.16

                             No                     2.05

Personally affected          Very much              1.67

                             Little/not at all      1.07

Satisfied with area          Very satisfied         1.00

                             Very dissatisfied      2.24

Likelihood of moving         Definitely             2.04

                             Definitely not         1.05

Area type                    Help each other        0.96

                             Go own way             1.82

Feel safe at home ...        Very safe              1.14

                             Very unsafe            1.97

Worry about burglary         Very worried           1.74

                             Not/not very worried   1.11


  1. The research team comprises of Rob Mawby (Director), University of Plymouth and Sandra Walklate, University of Salford, England; Dobrockna Wojcik and Zofia Ostrihanska, Polska Akademia Navk, Warsaw, Poland; Ilona Gorgenyi, University of Miskolc, Hungary; Gerd Kirchoff, Abeilung, Monchengladbach, Germany. The Project was funded by the central European University; contract 7/91-92, total award $55.200. Additional travel funds were supplied by NATO: contract CRG 920530, total award 277,000 BF.

Table of Contents | Institutional Attitudes Toward Policing in Contemporary South Africa

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