In recent years, Prague’s Smíchov has become a center for people addicted to injectable addictive substances (we described in the report here).
While experts talk about treatment and the “harm reduction” approach, which consists of trying to minimize drug damage to people who use drugs and are not motivated to stop using them, contact centers for addicts are gradually disappearing from Prague. The situation – especially around the intersection near Anděl – is getting worse.
Mayor Radka Šimková (Praha 5 Sobě), who has been in office since September this year, announced right after her election to the position that she wants to solve the situation surrounding hard drug users. After all, he has his office a few steps from the place where people under the influence of drugs clash daily with crowds of local residents and foreign tourists.
In an interview for Seznam Zprávy, the mayor describes why it is not possible to find crime prevention officers, how she wants to put pressure on Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda (ODS), who is in charge of security and anti-drug policy, or how the city is trying to deal with a psychiatrist who supplies black market with substitute substances.
After your election to the office of mayor of Prague 5, you said that the district was looking for crime prevention officers because of drug users. What exactly should they do? Should it be more field workers or more security?
An ordinary citizen sees drug users, sees homeless people, perceives a sense of danger. For him, it’s a situation he doesn’t want to be in – when he goes with small children, for example, it’s uncomfortable for him, he’s afraid. And this despite the fact that this feeling of danger that people have does not correspond very well to the statistics, or at least to the way the police show them to us. I think that one of the ways to strengthen the feeling of safety of those people is the presence of a person who knows the situation. Someone who has authority and competence.
Why do you think the police are not fulfilling this role?
Both the city police and the state police argue that there are few. The performance of that service, especially here in Anděl and the surrounding area, is burdensome for them in terms of the number of members. If it cannot be a police officer, which we would of course prefer, we asked that the city police employ crime prevention officers.
This is an institute tested in several city districts. They are not city policemen, they are persons who are trained, who are employed by the city police, who are able to solve situations that may arise. It doesn’t mean that they intervene directly, but when something happens, they call somewhere, they decide how to act in that situation.
It bothers people that drugs are sold and administered at Anděl, that they meet users there under the influence of addictive substances. Should preventionists persuade these users to go elsewhere? Or call an ambulance?
The primary thing is for them to be able to assess whether the situation requires calling the emergency services, calling the police, or whether the people are violating the ban on drinking alcohol. It’s not security, it’s crime prevention. The second function is that when an ordinary citizen goes there and sees that such a person is there, he feels better. He knows that if something happens, he is not alone.
The town hall has already selected several candidates that the city police could employ in this way. But when I asked the city police about it, they told me that those people don’t meet their requirements…
The requirements are set by the city police, and if I have the correct information, there are now the same requirements for prevention officers as for constables. They have a problem finding people even for the performance of the function of a constable – be it psychotests or physical prerequisites. We made a campaign, seven candidates contacted us and we passed those contacts on to the city police. Some have changed their minds. The two who came failed the physical tests. So of the seven candidates, no one was left.
What will you do with it?
I don’t want to give it up. One way is to hire field preventionists and employ them yourself. In December, a grant from the Ministry of the Interior should be issued specifically for crime prevention officers. By default, they give it to the city police, but in the case of Prague, according to my information, they are thinking of giving it directly to the city districts. With these funds, we could hire those people.
The second option is that we issue a contract for a social enterprise that will provide us with this service. We already have the survey and we have the contract pre-prepared, now we are looking for funds for it. They employ people who know the environment.
“City Police Don’t Know Where Crimes Happen”
Field workers say that unlike the police or security, they have developed a certain relationship with their clients and can convince them to leave a busy area or leave trash behind. After all, isn’t it better to support established non-profit organizations?
It sure is. If we are going to tender this contract, we want it to be a non-profit organization that operates here. The problem is that they also have a limited number of field workers and we need to increase their number, especially to increase the presence in those exposed places.
The basic problem of the whole thing is that there are few contact points for people addicted to addictive substances in Prague. We had two in Prague 5, now we only have one, and it’s overloaded. We are the most congested district in this city.
At the same time, you admitted in the interview that Prague 5 does not plan to find new space for the Stage 5 contact center, whose lease was terminated last year by the previous management. Isn’t it time to look for additional space for a contact center within Prague 5?
I think it’s just not the right way. We have to put pressure on the other city districts to spread those services throughout Prague, so that they don’t go to Prague 5. The less concentrated it is, the more acceptable it will be for other citizens.
The company Podané ruce came up with a mobile application room project in Brno for people who otherwise take drugs directly on the street. Are you not considering something similar?
That’s also something that’s on the table, but I don’t have a firm opinion on it. It’s more a question for experts if it’s even appropriate. We have not discussed it from a professional point of view.
It is an open secret that a psychiatrist has an office in Prague 5 near Plzeňská Street, who, according to people from non-profit organizations, prescribes a large number of substitution substances. These are then traded on the black market. What will you do with it?
The previous mayor Jaroslav Pašmik, before that the mayor Renáta Zajíčková tried to solve this situation for a long time. I think only the police have that option. He is in rented premises with a private owner, so we can’t touch him on this title.
If it is not found that it is committing some criminal activity or not providing services in accordance with what it should, we as a city district cannot interfere with it. That’s more of a question for the police. We are discussing it with them, but according to the information I have this way, there is nothing illegal going on there. I have other information from citizens and informed persons, but the state police must assess it.
In what way do you want to promote other city districts to open their own contact centers?
It is necessary to say that the main player in this issue is the capital city of Prague. We have no direct influence on other city districts. We have the anti-drug commission of the capital city of Prague, which issued a recommendation to the Council of the capital city of Prague that, I suspect, three more contact centers should be established by the end of the year. It has to be solved by the capital city of Prague, which, unfortunately, does not solve it in the long term.
In the interview, you talked about the planned meeting with Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda. Have you met yet?
We haven’t met yet. For example, we sent him a request that it would be necessary to collect data from the city police about security. The State Police has a crime map from which you can read where the crime is really being committed. It is not just a feeling, but real data where crimes and misdemeanors occur.
But the city police does not have such geolocation, so we are not even able to say what and where is happening in that part of our city, if for example on Anděl or Barrandová, because the city police does not have that information. I received a reply to that letter that it was an unnecessary waste of public funds.
I understand that no borough wants new contact centers near them for purely selfish reasons. But can’t you discuss this with politically “friendly” city districts, such as Prague 7, where Prague Sobě also rules?
No one can open one contact center at will. The right way is to open more of them. Let each city district have a certain number of contact centers for a certain number of inhabitants. It’s one thing that the city districts don’t want it, but on the other hand, the capital city of Prague has space, it has real estate. It wouldn’t have to ask for boroughs. If Prague really wanted to do something about it, it would simply find spaces and allow non-profit organizations to set up contact centers there.
Will you convince Mayor Svoboda to do it?
Yes. I am convening a round table – forum on security at the end of November. I want to invite non-profit organizations that work in the field, I want to invite the city police, the state police and of course the mayor and other responsible persons from the capital city of Prague.
But above all, I want to invite our citizens, who are now writing petitions, to share their experiences and what they are dealing with. The interaction between the people in charge and the citizens who are concerned about the issue is the strongest it can be. It’s one thing to read about it, and another to have people tell you their stories. Public pressure is the strongest thing that affects politicians.