The chief of the national police service, Major General Alik Sargsian, said police departments across the country registered almost 2,900 criminal offenses in the first quarter of 2009, a 57 percent jump from the same period of last year. He said violent assaults, armed robberies, thefts, frauds and hooligan acts accounted for much of the surge. By contrast, the number of murders and other “grave crimes” dropped by 35 percent, according to him.
“The police took pre-emptive measures during the first three months of the year,” Sargsian told a news conference. “Nonetheless, the rise was inevitable given the fact that we are actively fighting against the vicious practice of underreporting crimes.”
“All crimes are now registered and investigated,” he said, adding that the police are therefore not worried about the latest crime figures. He also described as “satisfactory” police efforts to combat and solve crimes.
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has for years accused the police of deliberately underreporting crimes. Speaking last August, Hovsepian said his office has found that the police failed to register more than 400 crimes in the first half of 2008 alone. The police statistics showed a nearly 9 percent drop in crime during that period.
The police chief also pledged to investigate reports that groups of plainclothes men attacked on Monday young opposition activists who distributed leaflets informing Yerevan residents about Friday’s rally planned by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). In a written statement, the HAK said that police officers across the city center stood by and watched as the thugs beat opposition youths, stole their leaflets and even “kidnapped” some of them.
The opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian claimed that the “criminal elements” acted on government orders and may have been directed by undercover police officers. Opposition newspapers printed on Tuesday photographs of several men allegedly involved in the violence.
“I have already instructed [the police] to identify the photographed lads,” said Sargsian. “But I can’t imagine the individuals pictured in your newspapers jostling [opposition youths] and wresting leaflets from them and the police not intervening. That is not possible.”
The Armenian police have also been under fire of late for forcibly ending daily gatherings of small numbers of HAK supporters on the city’s Northern Avenue. They insist that the so-called “political strolls” were illegal as they interfered with the work of nearby shops and restaurants.
Sargsian added to the controversy last week when he publicly stated that Ter-Petrosian supporters have no right to gather there because “Northern Avenue was built by the current authorities.” “Let opposition supporters stroll in places built by their authorities,” he said.
The police general claimed on Tuesday that his remarks were a joke. “I just joked at that point,” he told journalists. “But since you took that joke very seriously, I want to state that my position on Northern Avenue is as follows: public order must not be violated and mass events on Northern Avenue must be within the bounds of law and must not turn into mass disturbances.”