Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Russian Police Reform- What's in a name?

As of the 1st March the Russian ‘militsia’ have a new name, the ‘politsia’ or police. According to the government this change, and the reforms behind it will transform the country’s widely feared and mistrusted police into a shining force of honest bobbies.

The reforms behind the name change include evaluation of all personnel with up to twenty percent expected to be fired. A strict code of conduct will be introduced and salaries will be tripled to help discourage the need for bribe extraction.

Most Russians however view the reforms with scorn. One Russian radical art group has taken it a step further. Watch this hilarious video released on youtube on the day on the day of the name change.

Many consider the militsia in Russia to be one of the biggest things holding the country back. Violent, drunken and riddled with corruption one member of parliament described them as ‘waging a war against their own people’.

For a specific example lets look go back to October 2009.

Two Russian traffic policemen are dead, police Lieutenant Ayap Pavlov has shot himself and Viktor Lesnik has lost his job. What happened?

Polive Lieutenant Ayap Pavlov failed to show up for training on Saturday. Two hours later, he was pulled over by two traffic police whilst driving. They found their colleague, a policeman, was driving drunk. They made Pavlov get into their car to take him to hospital where they could record the state he was in. The causes of what happened next are unknown, like the causes of Pavlov’s absence from training or his drink driving. He shot one of his fellow policemen in the back of the head and wounded the police inspector driving. He then shot himself.

Tragic, certainly. And for the moment baffling. Dmitry Medvedev sacked the regional interior affairs minister, Viktor Lesnik and the Russian Interior Affairs minister, Rashid Nurgaliev will report will report back to Medvedev on the findings.

However this is not an isolated incident.

On the 22nd of October 2009 a drunken policeman went on a shooting rampage in a Moscow supermarket. He shot one man at point blank range in the head in front of the man’s girlfriend then frog marched her round the supermarket shooting at other shoppers. When police arrived they refused to arrest him saying they understood he was drunk and had family problems. Police General Vladimir Poronin later apologised for the comments and was reportedly sacked.

On the 21st of that month two senior policemen had criminal charges filed against them for going on a shooting spree in the Eastern city of Samara wounding three people.

On the 20th the Eastern Republic of Buryatia’s Interior Minister (in charge of Police) Viktor Sosyura was suspended pending investigations. He has since been charged with 44 episodes of contraband. He is suspected of taking bribes to allow a gang to import large quantities of the precious stone nephrite into Russia whilst ensuring his own department didn’t discover the crime. Nephrite generates huge income in Russia and the money made from the crime could amount to 50 million roubles.

These were, even back then, the tip of a truly horrifying iceberg. As of October 22nd 2009 Russian authorities were, according to the prosecutor general’s office, investigating 16,000 cases of corruption within the establishment. 12,000 cases have been opened this year. The cases include:
842 ‘persons of special status’
500 people’s deputies and local government officials
15 deputies of regional legislatures
19 judges
33 prosecutors
86 lawyers
Over 100 police and drugs investigators
On 6th November 2009 Alexey Dymovsky, a senior detective from Novorossisk send a youtube appeal to Prime Minister Putin asking him to intervene to stop widespread fraud in his force. He said crimes were frequently invented in order to fulfill quotas for their solving. He was fired from the police and arrested the next January, on suspicion of fraud. In 2010 it was no better. Even by the police’s own records its officers broke the law or violated their code of conducted 125,000 times last year.

For business owners in Russia it’s common practice to pay some policemen a fee to provide a ‘roof’, or protection in case of a dispute with competitors. They can then be called in to arrest the other owner, beat them up or even kill them. Many Russians are more afraid of the police than they are of criminals or thugs on the streets.

This law sees the right sentiments written down but critics say such a corrupt system is incapable of reforming itself. The ones doing the interviews for the new police jobs are current top policemen. To imagine they don’t have cliques and favourites they know will maintain their rackets is naïve.

Hopes are, as so often in Russia, high. But lets not forget, the reason Lenin changed their name to the militia the first time round was because the Tsarist police were so hated.

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