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Cablegate: Latvia: New Police Unit Seeks to Keep Tourists Safe in Riga

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DE RUEHRA #0063/01 0361543
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051543Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6279
INFO RUEHTL/AMEMBASSY TALLINN 0035
RUEHVL/AMEMBASSY VILNIUS 4087
RUEHFT/AMCONSUL FRANKFURT 0001
RUEHHE/AMEMBASSY HELSINKI 1080
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 1175

UNCLAS RIGA 000063


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR CA/OCS RICK DOWELL
FRANKFURT FOR RCO KERRY BROUGHAM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CIS PGOV ECON ASEC KCRM LG

SUBJECT: LATVIA: NEW POLICE UNIT SEEKS TO KEEP TOURISTS SAFE IN RIGA

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED -- PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Riga has a new tourist police unit with
multilingual officers who patrol areas popular with visitors and
operate a telephone hotline around the clock. The more
sophisticated police presence at a time of widespread budget cuts
illustrates that city officials recognize the importance of
protecting the vital tourism industry. While the police reported a
sharp increase in crime since the economic crisis began, we have not
observed a corresponding spike in reported crimes involving American
citizens. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) We first learned of the establishment of a new
tourist-focused police unit in September 2009 through the local
media. On January 14, RSO and Consular staff met at the Embassy
with Andrejs Aronovs, the Chief of the new tourist police unit
organized under the auspices of the Riga Municipal Police, to learn
more about the specialized unit. He informed us the team consists
of 14 officers who can communicate in several languages that are
most popular with visitors, particularly English, French, and
German. The officers wear highly visible reflective clothing and
conduct both foot and vehicle patrols in the historic old city as
well as in adjacent parks and transportation facilities. The
officers are instructed to be proactive, and Aronovs described how
officers approach apparent visitors who may be inadvertently walking
into less safe areas of the city and offer them information or
directions.

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3. (SBU) Aronovs reported that, unsurprisingly, the peak hours of
concern are in the late evening when many tourists emerge from bars
and night clubs in an intoxicated state and are at a higher risk of
being targeted by pickpockets, thieves, or con-artists. Aronovs
also expressed appreciation for post's efforts to develop a widely
publicized list (available on our Internet site and re-published in
many city guide books) of unscrupulous night clubs which demand
exorbitant payments from unsuspecting foreign clients when it is
time to pay the bill. The tourist police, he reported, monitor
clubs but can only do so in uniform, whereas other police units can
conduct plainclothes operations. Sometimes groups of inebriated
tourists cause public disorder problems, especially groups of young
men on bachelor party excursions, but these problems tend not to
involve American citizens.

4. (SBU) The tourist police in the field are linked to a telephone
hotline that is staffed by multilingual police officers 24 hours per
day who can provide information, assist with filing police reports,
and dispatch officers to problem areas. There is also a network of
closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in key areas, and according
to Aronovs police assets can generally reach any area of concern
within one minute. The tourist police have also developed a
brochure in five languages providing the hotline, emergency contact
information, and advice, which was distributed to area hotels.
(Note: Per Aronov's request we also made these brochures available
in our ACS waiting room and posted it on our Internet site. We also
briefed Aronovs about how the Embassy duty officer system works and
encouraged officers to contact us if they are dealing with an
emergency situation involving an American citizen. End note.)

5. (SBU) Aronovs confirmed that, since the serious economic crisis
began, crime figures have increased across the board "and in some
categories doubled." Police salaries have also been reduced as the
government seeks to reduce expenses, but Aronovs believes there are
adequate resources for his unit to make a difference. He
acknowledged that there is some rivalry with regular city police,
who conduct some overlapping patrols, but his unit is now partnering
with other units to leverage limited resources. Some regular police
officers do not speak any English and are not specifically trained
to focus on customer service. This shortcoming was evident in one
incident in October 2009 when an American visitor was mugged across
the river from the historic old city and was unable to communicate
with responding officers or file a timely police report.

Comment:
--------

6. (SBU) In recent months Riga officials have expanded marketing
efforts in neighboring countries to lure more visitors on city break
vacations, and Latvia's main airline Air Baltic continues to add
destinations to its impressive flight network. The establishment of
a tourist police unit in a difficult budget climate demonstrates
that Latvia recognizes the need to protect the goose that lays
sorely-needed golden eggs. We have not observed any substantial
increase in reports of crimes involving U.S. citizens even though
crime has been a growing concern for the police, which may be an
indication that policing efforts have been effective.


GARBER

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