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Russia: Rebranding of the Police

Militia toy car

Mercedes Unimog – Russia Police by conner395 on Flickr

There are many debates in the Russian society over the necessity of the new law “On Police” which passed to the Russian Duma on October 27, 2010. Skeptics say this is a meaningless move and nothing will be changed, while officials argue this is an important law that will improve the security system in Russia. Some people are more concerned that this new law will change the name “militsiya” (Russian name for ‘police’) into “politsiya” (‘police’), leaving the problems in the field unresolved. Some, however, hope that it will lead to structural changes.

During the year of 2010 a project of the police reform became one of the priorities for the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. As Radio Free Europe puts itvideo appeals were released, in which a former militia officer Alexey Dymovskiy revealed some shocking details of police work. In January 2010, there was another shocking case when Russian journalist Konstantin Popov died after being severely beaten in custody by militia officers. These are just a few examples of power abuses by the Russian police.

Lenta.ru informed [RUS] that the idea to rename the department belongs to Sergei Stepashin, head of the Accounts Chamber of Russia. He proposed to create the country's professional police services while abolishing the department of militia as a social security force.

On August 7, 2010, a draft of the new law was released and later on published on the governmental web site zakonoproekt2010.ru for an open discussion. Several Russian NGOs reacted on this move by proposing a program of “five simple amendments” on the web site police2010.ru as an alternative. The following changes were suggested:

1. Обязательным элементом форменной одежды должна стать нашивка или бейдж с фотографией, именем и фамилией, а также должностью сотрудника полиции и названием отделения в котором он служит;
2. Милиционеры должны быть обязаны составлять протоколы об административном правонарушении на месте правонарушения (как это делают сотрудники ГИБДД), прибегая к доставлению в отделение или задержанию лишь в исключительных, строго оговоренных случаях;
3. Сотруднику полиции должно быть запрещено препятствовать аудио- или видеозаписи при общении с гражданином;
4. У гражданина должно быть право на самостоятельный телефонный звонок при задержании. В случае задержания по подозрению в совершении уголовного преступления, реализация этого права может быть отложена на срок не более 6 часов, о чем делается соответствующая запись в журнале доставленных;
5. Должна быть создана единая федеральная горячая линия (например, 8-800-911-11-11) по приему жалоб на действия сотрудников полиции. Она должна функционировать не только в рамках УСБ МВД, но совместно с аппаратом Уполномоченного по правам человека в Российской Федерации.

1. A patch or badge with a photograph, name and surname, as well as police rank and the name of the department should become a mandatory element of the uniform; [allegedly this may bring more credibility and accountability to police officers]
2. Policemen should be required to draw up reports on administrative violations on the site where the violation took place (the way the traffic police do), bringing to the police station or detention should be invoked only in exceptional and strictly defined cases;
3. Police officers should be banned from hindering audio or video recording when dealing with citizens;
4. Citizens should be entitled to making independent phone calls during arrest. In cases of detention on suspicion of committing a criminal offense, the realization of this right may be delayed for a period of no more than six hours, with a relevant entry in the delivery log;
5. There should be created a unified federal hot line (e.g., 8-800-911-11-11) to receive complaints against the police. It must operate not only within the CSS MIA, but in conjunction with the Commissioner on Human Rights in the Russian Federation.

Only the right to call relatives in the first three hours after detention was included in the law, even though this on-line petition with five amendments has received support of more than a thousand netizens.

Vedomosti informs [RUS] that comments by the Russian lawyers’ association, chamber of commerce and accounts chamber have not been considered either. Judging from the text, the interests of the current police department have won. According to the law, the Ministry of the Interior centralizes its control over the police while regional authorities have no power over it.

The law contains many novel changes, while there is some unclear and blurry wording, particularly:

Глава 2. Статья 9. Общественное доверие и поддержка граждан
1. Полиция при осуществлении своей деятельности стремится обеспечивать общественное доверие к себе и поддержку со стороны граждан;
[…]
3. В случае нарушения сотрудником полиции прав и свобод граждан или прав организаций он обязан в пределах своих полномочий принять меры к восстановлению нарушенного правового состояния. Сотрудник полиции приносит извинения гражданину, чьи права и свободы были им нарушены, по месту нахождения, работы, учебы или по месту жительства гражданина в соответствии с его пожеланиями;

Chapter 2. Article 9. Public confidence and support of citizens
1. Police carrying out their activities seek to ensure public credibility and support from the citizens;
[…]
3. In case if a police officer violates rights and freedoms of citizens or organizations, he is obliged, within his powers, to take steps to restore the violation of legal status. A police officer apologizes to citizens whose rights and freedoms have been violated by him, at the location, work, school or place of residence of the citizen in accordance with his wishes.

This article does not say how a police officer should apologize: write a letter or come to the office of the offended citizen and apologize in person. As blogger za_prava_perm points out [RUS], public confidence and support cannot be ensured but earned by the good performance of their duties. In the meantime, Chapter 2 also highlights that

6. Общественное мнение является одним из основных критериев официальной оценки деятельности полиции[…]

6. Public opinion is one of the main criteria for a formal assessment of the police activity […]

And this may become a positive change.

Another part of the law about the rights of the police left controversial impressions on the Russian society:

Статья 13. Права полиции
1. Полиции для выполнения возложенных на нее обязанностей предоставляются следующие права:
[…]
42) привлекать граждан с их согласия к внештатному сотрудничеству; устанавливать негласное сотрудничество с гражданами, изъявившими желание конфиденциально оказывать содействие полиции на безвозмездной или возмездной основе; […]
44) беспрепятственно пользоваться в служебных целях средствами связи, принадлежащими государственным предприятиям, учреждениям и организациям, а в случаях, не терпящих отлагательства, – средствами связи, принадлежащими негосударственным предприятиям, учреждениям и организациям, а также общественным объединениям и гражданам;

Article 13. Police rights
1. In order to carry out their responsibilities, the police are granted the following rights:
[…]
42) to engage citizens with their consent to freelance cooperation; establish tacit cooperation with citizens, volunteer to assist the police in confidence on a free or paid basis, […]
44) free to use for official purposes communication devices belonging to state enterprises, institutions and organizations, and, in cases of emergency, communication devices belonging to private enterprises, institutions and organizations, as well as public associations and citizens;

In this regard, user Timofeev left a comment on the discussion board of Zakonoproekt2010.ru:

п.4[4] – прямое направление сотрудников полиции на изымание у граждан на безвозмездной основе средств связи […] Обязательно должны быть прописаны условия таких изъятий и правила компенсации использования этих средств. Речи не может идти о “безвозмездном” использовании. Добросовестный налогоплательщик уже оплатил все, что может потребоваться сотруднику полиции.

A.4[4] – directs police officers towards withholding communication devices […] from citizens on a free-of-charge basis. There must be indicated the conditions of such exemptions and compensation rules of use of these measures. It is out of the question talking about “free of charge” use. A conscientious taxpayer has already paid for everything that a police officer may require.

The Russian media made public some information regarding the cost of the reform. The suggested amounts ranged from one billion to three hundred billion rubles. Vedomosti argued [RUS] that the process of renaming militia into police would cost 2.2 billion rubles (approximately $714.8 million). Skepticism in the Russian blogosphere suggests that the militia reform would result only in changing the signs, while no structural changes would be implemented. It is still unclear whether this law will be successful or not. User Доброжелатель (Well-wisher) commented [RUS] on this issue on the forum of the governmental Rossijskaya Gazeta:

Уважаемые граждане!!! Весь вечер просидел у ПК в нэте, все обсуждают, разные точки зрения, но никто на самом деле не говорит, о том, что инфляция, цены на продукты питания, ипотека и т.д и т.п. не стоят на месте. Милиционеры или полицейские на деле как были нищими, так и будут нищими. С такой позицией правительства несогласно большинство, людей в погонах в регионах уже сейчас “режут” по живому, руководители подразделений создают такие “условия работы”, что нормальный честный сотрудник вынужден уходить и искать другую работу, потому что есть более “достойные” – (дети знакомых, либо кто в “теме”). Вот так!!!

Dear citizens!!! I’ve spent an entire evening at the PC online; different points of view are being discussed, but no one is actually speaking that inflation, food prices, mortgages, etc., are not standing still. In fact, militiamen or policemen were poor and will remain so. The majority does not agree with this position of the Government; in the regions people in uniform are already “cut” alive, heads of departments create such “working conditions” that a normal honest employee is forced to leave and find another job, because there are the more “worthy” ones – (friends’ chlidren, or someone with connections). This is how it is!!!

The judgment call can be made only next year, when the law is implemented and the reform is launched. There are some useful ideas and initiatives incorporated in the text of the law. Meanwhile, let’s hope that it will be a change for good.

4 comments

  • […] Although accusations against Dymovskiy and others still stand, the furious reaction of the police chiefs, and the considerable risks taken by the video makers, is one kind of evidence that what they say is true. In all cases, the police commanders have focused on eliminating the sources of the ‘public leakage' rather than attempting to make changes (the police reform introduced at the end of 2009 can hardly be considered an actual change). […]

  • […] Although accusations against Dymovskiy and others still stand, the furious reaction of the police chiefs, and the considerable risks taken by the video makers, is one kind of evidence that what they say is true. In all cases, the police commanders have focused on eliminating the sources of the ‘public leakage' rather than attempting to make changes (the police reform introduced at the end of 2009 can hardly be considered an actual change). […]

  • […] 디모브스키와 다른 이들에 대한 비난이 존재하기는 하지만, 경찰청장들의 분노에 찬 반응과 비디오를 녹화한 사람들이 감당해야 했던 엄청난 위험은 그들의 주장이 사실이란 것을 입증하는 하나의 증거다. 모든 사건에서, 경찰 수뇌부는 변화를 일으키기 보다는 ‘정보 유출' 의 근원지를 없애는 것에 주력했다 (2009년 말에 시행된 경찰 개혁은 사실 변화라고 치기도 어렵다). […]

  • […] más que en intentar hacer cambios (la reforma policial iniciada a fines de 2009 apenas puede ser considerada un cambio real). La historia de los ‘policías YouTube’ muestra vívidamente cómo las estructuras rusas […]

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