Powers granted to Tallinn's municipal police force (MuPo) have been the subject of debate, with interior minister Katri Raik (SDE) saying all municipalities in Estonia should get an expansion to their existing rights, including the potential use of physical force where needed. Others, including coalition party Isamaa, have expressed opposition to this, or at least to MuPo being so empowered.
MuPo is an entirely separate organisation from the nation Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), and operates within Tallinn city limits and under the city government, which is Centre Party-dominated.
MuPo personnel have their own green-liveried uniforms and vehicles, and are perhaps most well known for conducting on-the-spot checks of public transport passengers' rights to travel.
Public transport is free to Tallinn citizens, who must swipe a travel card upon boarding a bus, tram or trolleybuys and can be asked to produce that documentation by MuPo personnel. Failure to provide any proof of right to travel can result in the passenger being asked to disembark, with fines often issued.
Anti-social behaviour problems
Other MuPo functions include as a point of contact in the case of icy conditions causing problems in Tallinn's streets; a spate of youth violence in a central Tallinn park last summer was followed by suggestions that MuPo patrol parks, though that has not been implemented.
Interior minister Katri Raik has argued that municipality powers should be extended nationwide, in order to ensure the safety and cleanliness of public spaces in the city, including the combatting of graffiti and the consumption of alcohol in public (illegal under municipal regulations). In Tallinn itself such duties would most likely fall to MuPo, if the municipalities received greater powers.
''We have made a proposal for a bill to expand the law enforcement powers of municipalities. First and foremost we have in mind stealing a ride in public transport, and behavior in public space," Ms Raik said on Thursday.
Amongst other things, this would avoid situations where a bus full of people has to wait until the arrival of PPA personnel, if a passenger refuses to prove their right to a free ride in public transport to MuPo.
"Similarly, the municipality at present has no right to take a drunk person sleeping at a bus stop to a place where they can sober up, or police people drinking alcohol at a children's playground or otherwise committing a public order breach to order, by any other means than orally," Ms Raik went on, noting that any use of force in such cases can currently only be carried out by the PPA.
Isamaa opposition to interior minister
Ms Raik added that the move to expand municipal law enforcement units should be optional, as well as the terms of employment, working hours etc., noting that weekends were often key peak periods.
Isamaa, the other junior coalition party, opposes such a move, however.
Party chair Riina Solman expressed concerns at a duplication of the PPA's powers or organisation, saying that the proposed MuPo extension of powers should be reserved to state-level organisations only, and noted that in Tallinn things had been particularly problematic, not least given the status of MuPo whilst Edgar Savisaar was mayor of the city.
Isamaa party chair Riina Solman. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR
"As we all recall, the municipal police was used as personal security detail by [former] mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar. Up to the Savisaar-era, a mentality tolerant of corruption had been rooted out in Tallinn, and for as long as any practices involving the giving and taking of bribes by heads of city authorities abusing their position of power for personal gain, the same authorities should under no circumstances be trusted with additional rights which should be under the state's power structures. Direct coercion should remain part of the state's monopoly of force," a press release quoted Ms Solman as saying.
Edgar Savisaar was on trial on corruption charges for well over a year, in a case which passed up all three tiers of the Estonian court system, finally having charges against him dropped for health reasons, in late 2018.
An old point of contention
A better solution to problems regarding anti-social behaviour and the like would be to boost police patrols both in Tallinn, using city-raised funds for instance, and across Estonia, "not create principalities,'' Ms Solman added.
"Isamaa does not wish to support a parallel administrative structure at the taxpayer's expense by giving it obligations relating to coercion, which have so far been held by the state alone," she continued.
This was not the first time the two parties had clashed on the issue. Katri Raik told daily Postimees that: "The interior ministry prepared a bill on this topic in accordance with the government's plan for its first 100 days in office, but due to the dissenting opinion of justice minister Urmas Reinsalu [Isamaa-ed.], it never got discussed''.
Isamaa and SDE split on the issue of the UN Global Compact on Migration in November 2018. As noted MuPo has strongly been identified as the Centre Pary, the larger coaltion government partner. A new coalition government will be formed in the weeks after the 3 March general election, likely to change its party makeup.
In the case of the youth violence epidemic last summer, which occured in the Kanuti Gardens in central Tallinn, a private security firm was hired for patrolling duties.
In 2017, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise also expressed reservations at extending the powers of local municipalities, as regards the use of physical force.
Editor: Andrew Whyte