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Former Top Lawman in Poland Killed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Poland’s former police chief, who was about to take up a post in Brussels fighting international organized crime, was shot and killed in his car outside his home, authorities said Friday.

The execution-style slaying Thursday night of Marek Papala, 38, sent shock waves through this capital, where fear of street violence and anger against organized crime have grown dramatically in recent years.

Police offered few details and no speculation, but Polish media and the general public took it for granted that Papala had been assassinated.

“My first impression is he was killed because he was a good cop,” said Urszula Kaczynska, 48, a businesswoman who lives in the same upscale district where Papala was killed. “It was probably revenge from a gang.”

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Rzeczpospolita, Poland’s most respected daily newspaper, reported that Papala was killed by a single shot, probably from a pistol with a silencer. Papala, who resigned as police chief early this year, was to become a liaison officer from Poland to the European Union, based in Brussels. There he would have dealt largely with efforts against organized crime.

An estimated 300 to 400 organized gangs now operate in Poland, according to a recent report in Wprost, a respected Polish newsmagazine.

“The policemen here are outraged,” said Slawomir Cisowski, an officer at national police headquarters. “The best officers in Poland are assigned to work on this case, and they really want to catch the murderer.”

In a statement about the slaying, national police noted that 38 officers were killed on duty from 1994 to 1997, compared with 17 killed in the previous four years. There were a total of 508 attacks on police in 1997 that left 11 dead, 36 seriously injured and 93 with lesser injuries, authorities said.

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Fear of street crime has grown dramatically among ordinary citizens in recent days, especially when compared with the repressive pre-1989 days of Communist rule.

“How can we feel safe in a city where the chief cop was shot in cold blood in front of his house?” asked a female caller to a talk show on Warsaw’s Channel 3 radio Friday morning.

Anna, 21, a university student, observed of Papala’s death: “All the people in my family are wondering why he was assassinated. It obviously is not a mistake. It is a terrible thing that happened. Someone must do something about the crime rate.”

She said her parents have told her that Warsaw’s streets were safer a decade or more ago. Now, she said, she is “afraid to go out late at night. . . . Sometimes I have to go back home from my friends’ homes at night and I don’t feel safe.”

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Trying to step up the fight against street crime, authorities last month imposed a youth curfew in Warsaw, banning anyone younger than 18 from the streets from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless accompanied by an adult.

“I absolutely support it,” businesswoman Kaczynska said. “Youngsters aren’t responsible before the courts like grown-ups. They’re treated with more leniency, so they shouldn’t have the same rights as adults.”

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek promised the strongest possible effort to track down Papala’s killer, saying, “This is a tragic event. It’s very depressing.”

Opposition leader Leszek Miller, who was interior minister last year when Papala became police chief, said drug gangs, smugglers of stolen cars and money forgers were among the groups Papala had cracked down on.

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“If the motive was revenge, then I assume that one of these groups had an interest in carrying out this sentence,” Miller said.


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