The new Ukrainian authorities are fighting corruption in the country's police service by hiring new young police officers. The Ukrainian capital Kyiv is the first city to run the law enforcement “reset” experiment, and after their first month at work, the new police cadres have become a big hit on social media.
My new police
Since the first day the new police started patrolling streets in the beginning of July, people were so excited about friendly young officers that they started taking selfies with them. This led to the trending hashtags #KyivPolice, #МояНоваПоліція (#MyNewPolice), and #Селфізкопом (#SelfieWithACop), which were among the most used in Ukraine in July. In just the first week, the hashtag #KyivPolice was used more than 3,500 times on Twitter. In less than two months, the Instagram page of the new Kyiv police got over 23 thousand followers, adding to the 10 thousand subscribers on Facebook.
The baffling popularity of the new patrol force came soon after the new Kyiv authorities began their police reform. First, they fired hundreds of old police officers and replaced them with over 2,000 new ones who were plucked form a pool of more than 30,000 prequalified applicants. Roughly a quarter of the new recruits are females. All the newly hired individuals underwent a rigorous training under the supervision of enlisted US and Canadian trainers. Finally, the new officers received an increase in salary, which now ranges from 8,000 to 10,000 hryvnyas ($360-450).
Law enforcement reform in Ukraine's capital (and elsewhere) has been long overdue. Police officers in the country are notorious for being corrupt. In addition to that, many Ukrainians still remember how last year, during the Euromaidan protests, local police departments were helping the special unit within the Ministry of Internal Affairs called Berkut, to attack demonstrators on Maidan Square in downtown Kyiv. As a result of violent clashes with police over 100 people were killed over the course of two weeks. Police officers also played an important role in helping then-president Viktor Yanukovych escape to Russia.
Hashtags as a measure of diligence
The public’s reaction online to new recruiters has come in waves. When new officers just started patrolling the streets of Kyiv, social media users were actively posting and sharing their “cop selfies.” The general tone of the comments has been mostly positive, full of excitement and well-wishes, such as this post from Serhiy Herts on Facebook.
Something good. Finally, I talked to the new officers. I asked them about the situation downtown where they were patrolling. They answered without any hesitations. They said that the biggest inconvenience was dozens of selfie requests. But they, in general, didn’t mind that because social connection with people at this point was very important. They made a very positive impression on me. The most important was that there was no fear to approach and talk to them.
Another Facebook user, Zurab Kantariya, wrote, “In trend #selfiewithcop. They are cool! Good luck!”
Police on duty
A few weeks later, the same hashtags started to mark posts in which people were sharing their own experience of dealing with the new officers. Although mostly positive, some complained about not being able to reach police when dialing the emergency number.
Other users reposted a story published by a few local newspapers about a team of young officers who allegedly lost a car and a few weapons during the first days of patrolling. The spokesperson at the Ministry of Internal affairs quickly denied the allegations, stating that after the first two days only three car bumpers had been damaged in minor accidents.
Facebook user Sergij Panchenko shared a story about his encounter with the new police (above). He called them to complain about the loud crowd outside his house. It took officers 18 minutes to arrive and check what was going on outside Panchenko’s windows. He wrote that after the officers talked to the loud young people they went away for good. The officer later called Panchenko back to confirm that the problem had been resolved.
Social media users also used the new police hashtag to share their complaints about the new law enforcers. However, the most popular grievance was not about the officers themselves, but rather about the flashing light beacons on their cars that were always on. Some drivers complained that the lights were so strong that they simply blinded everyone on the road, especially at night.
Kyiv was the first city where the new police started working. The police reform is set to gradually take place over the next year in other major cities around the country, with Lviv and Odessa next in line. So far, Kyivans seem to be liking the changes. According to a recent Kyiv survey, 92 percent of people polled are quite happy with and totally support the new police reform.
Despite this optimism boost on the streets of Kyiv, Ukrainians still believe that the current government is not doing its best to fight corruption in the country in a broader sense. According to the results of a national poll released by the Razumkov Center, an independent research group, 81 percent of respondents don’t see any progress in the anti-corruption reforms conducted by the new government around the country. So while the new police patrols enjoy smiles and selfie requests, the officials higher up will likely have to do more to earn the people's trust.