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Police skaters keep up with crime

The new inline skating patrol is geared up for action

(Keystone)

Troublemakers in Zurich now have to be quicker on their feet to escape the long arm of the law after the formation of a police inline skating patrol.

The 34-strong unit, made up of 25 men and nine women, can skate a beat covering Bahnhofbrücke, Bahnhofstrasse, Limmatquai and the lakeside five times faster than a foot patrol.

The skaters, who patrol Monday to Saturday from 1.30pm to 5pm, will crack down on social-disorder offences, illegal parking, drug dealing and other crimes, but will also present a friendly and approachable face to the public.

They will police such events as the Street Parade and the Zurich City Party, removing drunks and dealing with public-order offences.

The idea to employ a full-time inline skating police patrol originated from the success of Zurich’s Monday Night Skate, an event that started six years ago and now attracts thousands of people who skate through the city’s streets every other week in summer.

Police officers on skates helped to make the event run smoother after problems with car drivers who were frustrated with delays caused by the event.

"With thousands of skaters attending the event it was simply impossible to get through by car or even on a bike," Zurich city police chief Philipp Hotzenköcherle told Swiss television.

"It was then that we realised we had staff members who did inline skating themselves so we decided to form a unit on skates. This worked so well we decided to employ the unit for other tasks too."

Horseback replacements

The unit replaced the city’s horseback patrols that were disbanded last year because they were too expensive and impractical for modern policing. The annual material costs for the entire inline skating unit equal that of just two horses.

The inline skaters are also a more effective police unit as one officer always had to hold on to the horses after dismounting. The skaters can walk over grass and rough terrain, negotiate small flights of steps and quickly remove their skates if necessary.

"The police on skates are as much of a spectacle as the mounted police. They carry out more or less the same tasks, but are a lot cheaper to manage," said the city’s police director Esther Maurer.

The skaters are also popular with the public and tourists who approach them to ask directions or even to take photographs.

"Many Swiss do inline skating themselves and think that it’s fun to have policemen on skates. This helps to make contact with the public," said Hotzenköcherle.

Not just a friendly face

The job also goes down well with the police skaters themselves. "It is a way of combining your hobby with your profession," said patrol member Cornelia Gruber.

But unit head Marcel Schäffer warned criminals that the patrols are not just there to present a friendly face.

He told swissinfo that community groups around the lake had complained about vandalism and bad behaviour and had called for an increased police presence to combat anti-social activities.

"We are not just here to look nice, but also to fight crime," he said. "Our patrols will hopefully make people think twice before causing damage or becoming a nuisance."

Schäffer says the one thing skaters have to be aware of is that people can push them over if they are on skates.

"But if people want to do that to these officers then they had better be able to run very fast, because when we are back on our feet you won’t be able to get away from us very easily."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Inline skating patrols can cover a beat five times faster than foot patrols.
The inline skating unit has 34 members, with nine women and 25 men making up two patrols.
The unit replaces the horseback patrols that were phased out last year because they were too expensive.

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