One year into her term, Slovenian Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar is happy to report that crime clearance rate has increased to over 50%. However, cybercrime is a problem, in particular because the police force lacks the powers to investigate it.

The clearance rate increased from 47% in 2018 to 50.2% in 2019, which Bobnar says is the success of the system, not just individuals. Speaking to the STA in an interview, the commissioner compared the police force to a postage stamp: "It sticks onto the envelope until it reaches its destination.

Bobnar, who a year ago became Slovenia's first woman police force chief, says that the police now handle many more cases of corruption, and that cracking down on corruption crimes is a priority.

Cybercrime in Slovenia

Cybercrime is a problem, in particular on the dark web "where criminals use electronic currencies, leaving behind dispersed digital traces, which we cannot secure. Applying classic investigation tools, we are not a couple of metres behind, but far behind [the criminals]," says Bobnar.

Last year the police acquired equipment to examine huge amounts of data on seized electronic devices, and the force has also established a computer forensic investigation centre and special cybercrime divisions at police departments. "But we are lagging behind in terms of powers, and that is the problem."

The Slovenian police are able to monitor telephone communications, but not encrypted communication. The Constitutional Court has banned them from using IMSI catchers, devices that mimic mobile phone towers to intercept mobile traffic, as well as the system for automatic license plate recognition.

"Slovenia is one of few EU countries that doesn't have the legal basis in place for that. We absolutely need that, also to provide road traffic safety. In the short time that we had that power, we detected many offenders who drove faulty vehicles," the commissioner notes.

The police are not demanding to be allowed to exercise general surveillance, "it's not about having the freedom of a fox in a hen house", but "security in the broadest context is a key asset that we mustn't squander", the commissioner warns.

"Luckily, we haven't witnessed a lorry ploughing into a mass of people, we don't have child kidnappings ... We still have time to ponder year in year out how much safety we want at the expense of privacy. It's not one or the other, it's both. You don't realise safety is a human right until it's gone."

The police force will push for amendments to the police tasks and powers act again this year, taking into account the Constitutional Court's guidance in annulling the respective provisions.

However, Bobnar wondered "whether it may be in someone's interest in this country that police should not be effective enough in cracking down on a portion of crime".

In fighting cybercrime, which as a rule spans across borders, legislation that is adjusted at the EU level is of exceptional importance, says Bobnar, adding that Slovenian police can benefit from exchange of data with other police forces as well as Europol and Interpol.

The police have been detecting an increase in reported cases of internet child sex abuse and pornographic material dissemination. The number of cases reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children rose from 2,000 in 2018 to 3,000 in 2019.

"We are raising awareness among people that sharing such a video is a renewed sex abuse against the child involved," says the commissioner.

 

The police have also been busy cracking down on illicit drugs trade, with some of major heroin and cannabis drug busts made last year. Slovenia remains a transit country for illicit drugs, and new synthetic drugs are appearing on almost a weekly basis.

Staffing issues remain a problem

The force has been grappling with staff shortages with round 900 staff leaving over the past ten years. However, they have been applying active staffing policies over the past four years to attract as many new police candidates as possible.

"We want to boost traffic police, special police unit, the security and protection centre, as well as the ranks of border patrol units and other units," says Bobnar, adding that another goal is to rejuvenate the force, whose average age at the moment is 42.

Talks have been under way for three years to let army members beyond the age of 45 continue their careers in the police force. "Everyone who meets the legislative requirements is welcome. However, some laws will need to be amended so the soldiers can bring promotions and pay brackets with them from the army."

Amending the police career system remains a challenge for this year, while Bobnar is happy that the government has secured an extra EUR 15 million per year for bonuses for police officers managing migration.

Difficult work on the border

That is a demanding task with Bobnar saying that the police manage migration as a security problem and as a humanitarian issue. However, she also noted the gap between the expectations from one part of the public who would like to open borders wide to everyone, and those who would want to shut them tight.

None is possible. Even the Hungarian border is not impenetrable, with Slovenian police assessing that the migration flow has changed direction from Slovenia's southern border toward Hungary, says the commissioner.

Last year, the Slovenian police handled almost 16,000 foreigners who entered the country illegally, returning roughly 11,000 to law enforcement authorities in neighbouring countries, most to Croatia.

"The police are investing a lot of effort an energy in preventing illegal migration so I'd like to deny any allegation of our southern border being porous and of the state being ineffective in the field," says Bobnar, noting purchases of surveillance drones and more fencing to fight the problem.

The commissioner also commended cooperation with the security authorities in the neighbouring countries, the Slovenian Armed Forces and the national intelligence and security agency SOVA, including in the efforts to detect potential former Islamic fighters, smugglers and those intending to commit other crimes.

The police last year handled 455 smugglers of migrants in 317 such cases. "It's the activity of organised criminal rings who profit at the expense of vulnerable people who seek a better life in the west."

The smugglers are "mostly citizens of third-countries, Bosnia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, but there are also Italian, Slovenian and Croatian nationals. They include asylum seekers who have abused international protection."

Growing migration is met with spreading hate speech. In cooperation with the Web Eye the police have detected a slight increase in reported hate speech cases in 2019. "In particular on forums, social networks where there's a lack of regulations and which afford anonymity," says Bobnar.

However, she does not think repression alone is the answer. "All other stakeholders, including the primary family, should do their job first. Society must say no to intolerance loud and clear (...) Equal treatment and equal opportunity should be society's key guiding principle, or else we'll never make progress."