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Georgian gangs behind rise in Geneva burglaries

(Ex-press)

Georgian criminal gangs are chiefly responsible for the large rise in burglaries in French-speaking Switzerland over the past year, the Geneva police have confirmed.

Ten additional officers have been assigned to tackle the rising number of burglaries of apartments and villas in canton Geneva – up by 21 per cent in 2008 over the previous year, said the police on Tuesday at a presentation of their 2008 annual report.

In all, some 5,934 attempted or successful break-ins were reported in canton Geneva in 2008, compared with 4,878 in 2007. The region experienced peaks in August and December 2008, with over 400 reported burglaries each month.

Georgian nationals carried out a large proportion of these crimes, say police. Of the 305 burglars arrested in Geneva in 2008, 69 came from Georgia. A further 30 came from Moldova, Lithuania and Russia.

Out of a total of 100 people arrested for burglaries in Geneva so far this year, 40 are Georgians, the police say.

"It's clearly organised crime – with mafia-like structures. They are very well organised at every level," Jean Sanchez, deputy head of the Geneva police, told swissinfo.

"They have people who commit the burglaries, others who handle the stolen goods, and a rear base for recycling or laundering the money."

The Georgian gangs are fairly well known to police forces in the rest of Europe but their presence in French-speaking Switzerland has only been registered since last year, said the deputy head.

But it's also difficult to work out how many people are involved as some move from gang to gang, he added.

Break the network

In its 2007 internal security report the federal police said that criminal groups from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – a bloc of former Soviet republics - continued to operate an "extensive network" in Switzerland.

The Geneva force has therefore decided to beef up its operations to try to break the complex networks and stop the spate of burglaries.

"There is a major inter-cantonal cooperation ongoing," said Sanchez. "Colleagues from other cantons, in particular canton Vaud, have visited Georgia to investigate the networks up to the level of gang leaders."

A special investigative unit has also been created in Geneva with four investigating judges and ten inspectors assigned from other sections of the Geneva police. In all, 22 Georgians still remain in preventive custody.

Ne me Tase pas, mec!

The Geneva force also announced on Monday that it had become the first canton in French-speaking Switzerland to acquire Taser stun guns.

In all, it has purchased three Taser stun guns that would be used by trained officers in "exceptional" circumstances, such as during a prison riot, or to disable a criminal with a gun or someone who was about to commit suicide.

According to the police, only a dozen such incidents would have warranted the use of a Taser in Geneva last year.

On "no account" would a Taser be used during the expulsion of a rejected asylum-seeker, added Laurent Moutinot, Geneva's justice and police minister.

Tasers are already authorised by several other Swiss cantons (cantons Zurich, Bern, Basel City, Aargau, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Nidwalden, Schwyz, St Gallen, Thurgau and Lucerne, as well as by the Zurich and Zug municipal police), all of which have widespread autonomy for their police work.

50,000 volts

The Taser uses a temporary high-voltage low-current electrical discharge to override the body's muscle-triggering mechanisms.

Two barbed darts embed themselves into the skin and deliver a series of around 50,000-volt electrical pulses for up to five seconds. The maximum range of the darts is ten metres.

Experts say a shock lasting half a second will cause intense pain and muscle contractions. Two to three seconds will often cause the subject to become dazed and drop to the ground. More than three seconds will usually completely disorient and ground someone for up to 15 minutes.

Employing a Taser avoids the need for physical force or a firearm and prevents injuries, the Geneva police claim.

But a report by Amnesty International in December 2008 found 334 people died in the United States between 2001 and 2008 after a stun gun was used on them. Voltage from the guns "provoked or contributed" towards death in around 50 cases.

The report found that around 90 per cent of the people who died after being stunned had not been armed and had not seemed to pose a serious threat to anyone.

Amnesty says it is not opposed in principle to their usage, but believes that a Taser is a lethal weapon, and should be considered the same as a firearm.

"This is bad news, even if it is only three Taser stun guns," said Manon Schick, spokeswoman for Amnesty Switzerland.

"We had asked for a suspension of their use and of new purchases of Tasers in Switzerland. We would like the police not to use them until there is an exhaustive, impartial study into deaths using Tasers."

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

In brief

According to the Geneva police, there was an overall 2.5 per cent increase in local crime in 2008 compared with 2007.

The number of attempted or successful burglaries rose by 21.6 per cent to 6,000. Violent crime, such as murders, carjackings and hold-ups, remained in the "Geneva norm". Cases of actual bodily harm remained stable, while sexual attacks fell slightly.

Car thefts dropped in 2008, while incidents of bag-snatching and other cases of street robbery rose slightly.

Drug-related crime remained stable, the police declared. However special anti-drug operations would continue in 2009 in the Paquis, lakeside and Eaux-Vives/Jardins Anglais districts.

Some 81 policemen and women were injured in 2008 while carrying out their duties. Meanwhile the number of official complaints against the police fell last year.

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