Fellow Since 1998
Junior Police Venturers
This profile was prepared when Ján Vitko was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Through his own firsthand experience as a law enforcement officer, Ján Vitko became convinced that the law enforcement agencies of Central and Eastern Europe will not be able to effectively address the problem of rapidly growing crime rates in the region until two things change. First, the relationship dynamic between the police and the general populace must change from an adversarial relationship to one of mutual cooperation and trust. Second, communities must learn to take a more active role in crime prevention.Ján recognizes that the process of changing societal attitudes can sometimes take generations. That is why he has decided to focus his efforts on young people. In Ján's opinion, young people who did not have to adapt to the former social system are much more receptive to change than older people. However, he knows that for a youth-oriented project to succeed, young people must feel that they are active participants in shaping the desired social change. Thus Ján has developed a two-pronged program that engages youth in community crime prevention, while, at the same time, it teaches them about public institutions and about skills they can use to affect change from within those institutions. He is seizing a real opening within police departments in Slovakia that thus far has not been taken advantage of by other community activists. Under the new administrative system that was introduced in 1990, local police departments are now under the direct jurisdiction of local governments. Thus police departments in Slovakia are no longer burdened by burdensome regulations imposed by the central government, and they now have greater capacity to service the community. Unfortunately, the police departments have not changed very much since the end of the communist era nor has the citizenry yet demanded that they do so.