Youth gangs haven't gone anywhere this summer, ERR's Estonian-language portal reports. However, their gathering places and behaviors have changed, with authorities divided on whether the general sitation has got worse or better in recent years.
Two years ago, drunk and violent minors who congregated in Kanutiaja Park near Tallinn's Old Town hit the headlines for causing frustration among the public in the capital. Cith authorities hired more youth workers, roundtables came together, and the whole of Estonia dealt with the issue.
Two summers later, these gangs are still a live issue in Tallinn, however. Police patrols, the Municipal Police (Mupo) and youth workers are all dealing with the problem, the report said. Starting from this week, the Kesklinn district hired a security company to monitor young people gathering in parks and to keep the situation under control.
Whether the state of affairs is better or worse compared with two years ago depends on point of view, it is reported, though everybody agrees that the gangs have changed in their behavior.
Senior Mupo youth workers, who patrol the problematic parks with the police, assess the situation as being worse. Since they communicate directly with young people, they do not want to have their names disclosed.
"It's a little worse than in previous years," one of them said.
The integrated young
The age ranges from 12 through to adulthood. Depending on the day, 50-70 youths come together, and tend to be divided into smaller groups, but are nonetheless mixed and everybody seems to know each other. The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has contacted about 30 of these, of a total of around a couple of hundred people regularly gathering in the city center, often from outside the city or even other parts of the country.
"We have all mapped the young people congregating. We have observed them coming from Maardu, Narva County, South Estonia. They gather from all over Estonia," said Kaido Saarniit, head of the Center Department of the Northern Prefecture at the PPA.
Mupo's senior inspector describes young people drinking, smoking, and using drugs - mostly ecstasy and cannabis. They drink everything that is available, both strong and light alcohol, Mupo says. It is not difficult to get hold of alcohol and tobacco: Either an adult gang member goes to the store, or a homeless person is instructed to buy on their behalf.
The police evaluate the situation as calmer
Kaido Saarniit agrees that more young people gather in parks than before, but he does not agree that their behavior has become more problematic over the years.
"In terms of crimes, public order is many times better. This is also confirmed by statistics," he said. "We look at public order offenses: Beatings, fights, other offenses, alcohol and tobacco use. We can say these are in sharp decline. Mupo is apparently looking at general well-being - damage to park facilities or littering."
Neither the police nor Mupo are rushing to penalize youths who are violating the public order, they say, stating that this wouldn't be reasonable. Instead, they are trying to influence the behavior of the young, in order to make them rethink everything they have done and to change their habits.
"Young people just want to communicate and talk. They want a lot of attention. Those who don't run away are willing to talk," Mupo's inspector of youth work also recounted. "Even if a young person hasn't broken any laws, we've talked to them along those lines, about life issues, and not smoking. Many young people are smart, and tell interesting stories. They're not all bad, many of them may get far in life."
Editor: Roberta Vaino