Emerging issues in the transition from a militia to a national police service

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A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York

Aigi Resetnikova

June 2003


The thesis “Emerging issues in the transition from a Militia to a national police service: A case of Estonia” is about the Estonian Police, a national force that was re-established in 1991. The information is retrieved by analysis of the texts and documents available for the public. This thesis consists of 116 pages, which includes two figures.

Prior to the reestablishment of the Estonian Police, it had been a militia force under the control of the military, where ethnic Russians formed two-third of the police force. Today the total number of police officers is 3,565, of which 1,028 are women, who form 29 percent of the police force, which is one of the largest percentages of female officers in police departments around the world. Currently the highest ranking female police officer in Estonia holds the title of Police Director. Out of 209 Estonian Police higher-ranking police posts 26 are filled with women (approximately 12 percent).

The newly formed Estonian Police Labor Union remains with moderate membership levels, which makes up approximately 10 percent of the whole police force.

Today, the goal is that Estonian Police be trained according to the integrated curriculum of the police. At earlier times the curriculum of the Police School and the Police College of the Public Service Academy was partially overlapping. The current problems in the areas of recruiting, training, and education are: poor motivation of police officers and the large personnel turnover; lack of resources for fulfilling basic tasks and for development; the prevalence of authoritarian leadership, poor organizational structures and teamwork, and poor transmission of information within police force; uncoordinated training; and negative image of the police, lack of trust in the police, ineffective work with the public.

Table of Contents


Styles of policing are a reflection of the societies in which the police forces operate. The police affect society and are in turn affected by it. Thus, it is not surprising that the police are also transformed by major changes in society, whether for the better or for worse. Over time, the reconstruction of the police organization has been linked to the ensuring the political and economical achievements of the government’s performance targets. The problems surrounding police development, personnel and education may change over time or with a regime change, but they do not disappear.

This thesis is about the Estonian Police, a national force that was re-established in 1991. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are not yet many studies about policing in Estonia during that short time period. However, after twelve years of freedom and democracy, the lack of research into the police organization and the absence of academic writings about the policing is a major disadvantage to the police themselves and to the nation as a whole. The absence also harms other countries making similar changes to their police organizations. This lack of research prevents undertaking a serious international comparative dimension that can give to Estonia and to the other societies a broader perspective.

This thesis fills a void that has existed for far too long: the creation of the text that addresses, with original work, the policy dimensions of police issues such as the origin and the development of Estonian Police, Estonian Police labor unionism and its development, women’s presence in policing in Estonia, and the recruiting and educational issues of the police personnel.

In the period since 1990’s, the transition from the Soviet regime into a democratic society has been accompanied by increasing public mistrust of public institutions. At the heart of this problem, too, lies the issue of the effectiveness of the Estonian police force. The constant failures of police policy and tactics and the overall rapid decline in the effectiveness of the police since 1991 have been mostly due to the key changes in the wider social context, above all in the rapid transformation from socialism to free-market economic policies.

The ways and the extent to which the police and the policing of this ex-Communist country have changed since the political changes took place in 1989-1990 offer a dramatic look at the police role in the larger society. Gaining independence resulted in a number of social, political and economic issues important for the development of Estonia within the western democratic tradition. These cultural shifts have also affected the organization of the Estonian Police and the sworn and civilian members of the service.

Order maintenance was carried out in military style by a Soviet Militia prior to the emergence of the present modern police force in Estonia. The Police Force Act, which regulates police activity in Estonia, was passed on September 20, 1990, during the crumbling phase of the Soviet regime. This law remained in effect until May 14, 1998, when the new, current Police Service Act was passed.

The initial attempts at reform within the Estonian Police were chaotic as law enforcement was lacking key personnel with former democratic police experience and practice, research, and, often, even the proper legislation under which the police could function appropriately. Many decisions were made too fast without further discussion and without evaluation.

After providing the reader with a detailed description of the Estonian Police and its creation and current status, this thesis looks in depth at three issues that are important to the police organization separately and that may be related. The first issue is unionization, which has not been popular within the force. The second issue is the higher percentage of women in the force; the highest in Europe and possibly in the world with 29 percent. The last issue reviewed is education and training within the force. The thesis concludes with a discussion of how these issues may or may not be linked and how such interrelatedness, if valid, may influence future decision-making within the force.


A. Demography, Politics and Culture

The Republic of Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic states, bordering in the east with Russia, in the south with Latvia and in the north and west with the Baltic Sea. It has an area of almost 45,000 square kilometers. Its location gives Estonia a special strategic importance; for Russia it is a “window to Europe” and for European states it is the “last foothold” in the east. Estonian territory was taken over by Russia for the first time in 1721, when Russia defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War (Saar, 1999, p. 19), and the second time by the then-Soviet Union in 1939 in World War II. The occupation by the Soviet Union lasted more than a half century. Estonia restored its independence on August 20, 1991.

During the last decade developments in Estonia have resulted in the formation of a contemporary, progressive, yet evolutionary democratic society. Although Estonia is now a free, post-Communist state, it remains in a period of transition. It has moved persistently and supposedly successfully from one point of development as a communist, totalitarian-authoritarian society that was an occupied country, to the next, as a stable, democratic, independent, post-industrial society, with a market economy (Saar, 1999, p. 4).

Gaining independence resulted in a number of social, political and economic issues important for the development of Estonia within the western democratic tradition. The issues of identity at both the individual and national levels along with changing patterns of work, lifestyles and the widening gap of economic prosperity and accompanying social inequality have resulted in Estonia experiencing rapid social change. The move to a market economy provides abundance for some people while others experience hardship and social exclusion (Hebenton and Spencer, 2001, p. 10).

After the beginning of economic reform in Estonia, real wages dropped precipitously. During the first wave of inflation from 1989 to 1991, real wages fell by more than half. Food prices rose an estimated sevenfold as state subsidies, a Soviet economy phenomenon, were eliminated after regaining independence, and the population received only partial government compensation for the higher prices. Fuel prices and apartment rents also increased. In January 1992 alone, the cost-of-living index rose 88 percent, and in February it rose another 74 percent. Nominal monthly wages skyrocketed to keep pace, rising from 648 rubles in May 1992 to 3,850 rubles by May 1993. The introduction of the new currency, Estonian kroon (EEK), in June 1992 did much to stabilize wages and inflation. The average monthly wage settled around 500 EEK in August 1992. Thereafter, it began a steady climb, reaching roughly 1,200 EEK by the end of 1993. In the meantime, wage differentials between the highest- and lowest paying jobs grew markedly, from about three times to ten times. In 1993 the result of the survey showed that some 17 percent of people were behind in paying their utility bills for lack of money (Iwaskiw, 1996, pp. 28-29). At the end of 1994, the average monthly salary was a little under $200 (US) (The Baltic Independent, 1995, p. B3). With price rises vastly outstripping people's incomes, standards of living substantially declined. According to the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) (2001, p. 5) salaries in the private sector have always been higher than in the public sector.

Saar (1999, p. 4) suggested that it was impossible to make the half century long Soviet period of the post-Communist state disappear, even if that were desirable. Fifty years of occupation have left a significant impression upon people and institutions. This can be seen in the serious problems, especially difficulties associated with adapting to the new situations that have arisen in many important spheres of life.

According to Huntington’s (1993, p. 22) concept, the substantive basis of conflicts in the near future lies in cultural differences, not in earlier ideological and economic ambitions at the government level. Estonia lies on the border between two civilizations, East and West, with their own good and bad characteristics. Saar (1999, p. 10) noted that since the basic values and norms of the two civilizations are essentially different, it means that all people living in Estonia are to some extent undergoing an internal conflict. They have to adjust not only to new conditions but also to new values and norms. A relatively low evaluation of human life and the use of the individual as a mere instrument for gaining other, more important goals, are immoral and uncommon in the Western cultural tradition. The Eastern tradition, however, has always been less reluctant to accept such a possibility; there even exists a slogan “no man, no problem.” These cultural shifts have also affected the organization of the Estonia Police and the sworn and civilian members of the service.

Under the Constitution adopted on June 28, 1992, Estonia has a parliamentary system of government, with a prime minister as chief executive. Parliament also elects a president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. The Constitution also governs the work of a legal chancellor, an auditor general, and the National Court. The Riigikogu (Parliament), which replaced the transitional Supreme Council in 1992, has 101 members, who are chosen every four years by popular election. Central government policy at the regional level is carried out by the administrations of Estonia’s fifteen counties. These counties are further subdivided into 255 local administrative units, of which forty-two are towns and 213 are townships (The Library of Congress, 1995).

B. Development of the Estonian Police

Just as there have been vast social, political, and economic changes since independence from the Soviet Union, there have also been changes in the organization of public sector employment, particularly the police. This has also resulted in changes in which members of society join the police, in the public’s perception of the police, and in the roles of the police in society. According to the Commission of the European Communities data (2001, p. 16) there are around 20,500 employees in the Estonian administration, whereas government agencies employ 81 percent of this labor. Being a government agency, the Estonian Police, with its staff of about 5,000, is a large public organization, especially considering the size of Estonia. The recent developments and directions of the Estonia Police have been closely connected with the process of accession to the European Union (Eesti Politsei, 2003).

The police are a part of the Estonian law enforcement system. Apart from the police, there are also other agencies that have been given the rights to conduct pre-trial investigation and surveillance (customs; border guard, etc.). In addition, the courts, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Bar Association, the Notaries’ Offices, Legal Chancellor and authorities executing court decisions also are considered part of the law enforcement system (Eesti Politsei, 2003).

The Estonian Police are within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This Ministry supervises five central agencies: the Police Board, the Security Police Board, the Board of Border Guard, the Citizenship and Migration Board, and the Rescue Board. It also administers the Inspection of Data Protection and Public Service Academy which is an educational institution providing applied higher education in the field of policing as well as in other fields of administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Development and Information Department of the Estonian Police Board, 2001, slide 8). There have been a few Ministers of Internal Affairs since Estonia reestablished its independence in 1991. The current Minister of the Internal Affairs, Margus Leivo is the 14th minister since 1991.

According to the Nordic-Baltic Police Academy (NBPA) (2003) the main task of the Estonian Police is to maintain public order and ensure security, prevent, detect and investigate crimes and administrative offenses, conduct pre-trial investigations into criminal matters and process matters concerning administrative offenses. While doing so, the Police are in close cooperation with inhabitants and communities of different regions. The fire and rescue services, border guards, customs, education authorities, health and social authorities, and local governments are among the most important partners of the Police.

Strategic development documents of the Estonian Police, such as Estonian Police Development Plan for years 1999 – 2001 and Prioritized Development Goals in Policing up to 2006, state that police officers have to fulfill the tasks of the police. However, the police functions have not been clearly defined. Furthermore, expressions that police officers have to be released from “non-police functions,” “functions where executive power is not needed,” and police officers have to deal with “main police functions,” or “functions of police,” etc. are used very often. These expressions are usually used on cognitive level, which means that they are commonly understood when the discussion partner has the background of the same organizational culture. In reality, it is not clear what an expression such as “police main functions” means. Although the Police Act gives the formal legal explanation of the main police functions, this expression is too wide and has no clear borders. It may be claimed that police functions are assignments, in which the law entitles the executors to special rights to carry out these assignments. These rights entitle the police to use power, which includes, for example, the right to arrest people, to perform house searches, etc. Thus, police functions have to be fulfilled by police officers. In order to fulfill assignments that do not need police rights, non-sworn staff can be used effectively (Sepp, 2002, pp. 10-11).

The central agency of the Estonian Police is the Police Board which manages, directs, and co-ordinates the activities of all police units under its administration. The highest ranking police officer holds the title of Director General of the Police and is in charge of planning, developing, directing, and coordinating police work in the whole country (NBPA, 2003). The Police Director General has two deputies who coordinate the work of the Police Board as well as of the national and territorial police units. Each one has the title of Deputy Director General. The Police Board has eleven departments, each responsible for specific fields of duties. Those in charge of each of these units have the title of either Police Director, Head of the Department, Head of the Bureau, or Chief Superintendent depending on the department they are responsible for. These departments are Law Enforcement Department, Crime Department, Development and Information Department, Administrative Department, Police Control Department, Personnel Department, Finance Department, General Department, Internal Audit Department, Foreign Relations Department, and Press Bureau. Heads of these departments and Deputy Director Generals are higher-ranking police officials or higher level civil servants and are selected according to the evaluation requirements of the Police Service Act and the Public Service Act. Requirements of the police officials include a higher education requirement and immediate work experience as a higher police official for three consecutive years. The degree requirements are not specified further. The positions can be filled by either police officers or public servants, depending on the department. For example, the heads of the Finance Department, the Administrative Department, the Internal Audit Department, the Foreign Relations Department and the Press Bureau are civil servants while the heads of the other departments are police officers (Eesti Politsei, 2003).

Figure 1. Structure of the Estonian Police (Development and Information

Department of the Police Board, 2001, slide 6).

According to 2002 data the Police Board employs only 28 percent of police officers. More precisely, there are 80 police officers out of 287 employees working for the Police Board (Sepp, 2002, p. 13). Since October 1990, the Estonian Police has had six Director Generals of the Police. This extremely high level of turnover was altered in 1999, when a new regulation stipulated that the Director General of the Police would be appointed for a five year term. Although there have been a total of seven Director Generals since creation of the Estonia Police, there is now far greater stability in the top rank. The previous Director General of the Police, Harry Tuul has been serving at his post since 1998. From 1997 until 1998, Mr. Tuul was temporarily assigned but not formally appointed as a Director General of the Police. Recently, after serving his five-year term as the head of the Police, Mr. Tuul was replaced with a new Director General of the Police, Robert Antropov.

Figure 2. Structure of the Police Board of the Estonian Police (Development and Information Department of the Police Board, 2001, slide 7).

According to the Development and Information Department of the Police Board (2001, slides 15-19) the Estonian Police has four national units: the Central Criminal Police, the Personal Protection Service, the Forensic Service Centre and the Police School. The head of each unit has the title of Police Director. The requirements for the position of Police Director are the same as the requirements for the heads of the departments of the Police Board. These positions are filled by police officers. According to Sepp (2002, p. 13) the 2002 data showed that the national units and the Police Board together employed 14 percent of the police officers in the Estonian Police. The comparison of civilians and police officers in different structural units showed that in the Central Criminal Police and in the Personal Protection Service 80 percent of the personnel were police officers. In Forensic Service Center the percentage of police officers was only 36, because it performs mainly support functions for the police, and forensic laboratories (chemistry, biology, DNA etc.) employ mainly specialists and experts in these areas who do not need special police knowledge and rights for performing their work. Police officers in the Forensic Service Center are mainly working in its regional centers and involved in the operational work of the territorial police units, the prefectures, which will be discussed later.

The main tasks of the Central Criminal Police include preventing, combating and detecting criminal offenses which cover the whole state, cover several counties, are very severe, draw special public attention, or have had serious results. The Central Criminal Police is further broken down into three Regional Centers, an Operating Center, an Organized Crime Department, an Economic Crime Department, a Surveillance Department, an International Criminal Intelligence Department, and SWAT Team.

The main task of the SWAT Team or K-Commando is to conduct police operations for apprehending criminals who are believed, based on prior information, to be armed and who may resist arrest. Real crisis situations seldom occur in Estonia, but the K-Commando is trained to respond to any crises that may occur. Although the police in Estonia are armed, the SWAT team members receive special, intensive training; have distinctive weaponry and clothing and their identities are classified (wearing masks). In case of emergency the whole team, including the members who are not on duty, are able to gather within a limited time period from all over Estonia. The Central Criminal Police tend to employ the SWAT Team for their police operations more often than other units of the police, but the Criminal Police Departments of the prefectures utilize them as well, although not so commonly.

The International Criminal Intelligence Department, or Interpol Department, is tasked to exchange information, to facilitate international co-operation, and to co-ordinate joint operational activities with Interpol member countries and to provide both a global perspective and a regional focus to the Estonian police work. The Forensic Service Center conducts forensic and technical investigations, participates in pre-trial and court investigative activities, supports Police Prefectures with criminalistics equipment and police dogs, and provides training for forensic examiners and dog handlers. The functions of the Personal Protection Service are the protection of the President of the Republic, the Chairman of the Riigikogu (Parliament) and the Prime Minister, the protection and guarding of Government Offices, the protection of the official guests of the state, and the protection and guarding of Foreign Embassies and Ambassadors’ Residences. The Police School is an internal defense vocational training institution, based on secondary education. It is a police educational institution subordinated to the administration of the Police Board, governed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Phare, 2000, pp. 5-6).

There is no statistical evidence, yet it is commonly known within the police force and by Estonian citizens that majority of today’s higher-ranking police officials in the Estonian Police who are in charge of the national and local police units come from the Soviet Militia. Civil servants are the ones who generally have been hired from outside the police.

There are seventeen territorial police units called Police Prefectures, each serving one county or town. The local police chiefs are called Prefects. A Police Prefecture maintains public order and ensures internal security in its area, prevents, combats and detects criminal and administrative offences, and conducts preliminary investigations of criminal matters, and processes administrative offenses. According to the 2001 data, in Estonia there was approximately one police officer per 400 inhabitants. The size of a regional police unit depends on crime level and population. The largest number of police officers is in the capital city of Tallinn (1,300). Not only is this the largest Prefecture, it is very much larger than even the next largest prefecture, which is Tartu Police Prefecture, which is assigned only 317 police officers. Hiiu County, a small island of Estonia, is the smallest Police Prefecture, consisting of a mere 19 police officers. The population density and crime level are highest in Tallinn (Development and Information Department of the Police Board, 2001, slides 20-21). According to Sepp (2002, p. 8) about 86 percent of all police officers of the Estonian Police are working in prefectures.

According to Development and Information Department data in 2001 the Police staff consisted of 3,633 police officers, including 2,690 male police officers (74 percent) and 943 female police officers (26 percent). This is one of the largest percentages of female officers in police departments around the world, particularly in the European Union (EU) nations to which Estonia wants to be compared. The roles of women officers and the organizational and societal issues that are raised by this large percentage of women in the police service are discussed in Chapter 3. In addition to sworn police personnel, the Estonia Police includes 1,150 non-sworn, civilian public servants who make up the support staff.

Because the police organization is still relatively new, it is still evolving. Among the changes being considered is the merging of some of the police prefectures as a part of the Public Administration Reform that is currently being carried out in Estonia. The changes are expected to have been completed by the end of the year 2003. The aim is to reduce administration costs and increase the administrative capacity in Estonia (Phare, 2000).

According to Ivkovic and Haberfeld (as cited in Hebenton and Spencer, 2001, p. 9)
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