Russia is preparing an overhaul of its police following several massive scandals that shook the force. The new draft law has been published online and has prompted large-scale feedback from experts and the public.
Online public discussion of the planned changes is now coming to a close.
Probably the last straw was the notorious case of police major Denis Yevsyukov. In April 2009, footage of an off-duty police officer shooting randomly at people in a supermarket sent shockwaves through Russia.
It was incidents such as this, among other high profile scandals, that have meant Russia’s police force has come under increasing criticism with the government launching a wide-scale reform.
Most of the decisions are made at the Interior Ministry, but as the Russian authorities continue to gradually reform the police, there are many politicians and the public who feel that many more radical reforms are needed.
Citizens believe they should be involved in making decisions and participating in the life of a body that is responsible for their security. At the same time, the meaning of the reform is not fully clear to the general public.
In response to the call for open and public debate, President Medveydev has published the new draft reform bill on a specially created website which encourages members of the public to comment on the proposals, and already it’s attracted massive feedback. But with police corruption rampant, gaining the public’s trust will be a hard fought battle.
“I had a crash with a police car and it was the officer who was to blame. But the police are attempting to put the blame on me. This is because it was his cronies who came to the accident site. So they filled the papers the way they wanted,” recalls Sergey Efremov, who suffered from police brutality.
Among the proposed changes are clearer rules on what a policeman can and cannot do and a different system for evaluating police performance and even a name change from the Russian Militia to the western police.
Having worked in the militia for 20 years, Vladimir Noskov thinks it will take much more than a name change to make a real difference.
“Say I’m wearing a thin coat, and then it gets cold in the winter, and I need a warm fur coat. If I write ‘fox fur coat’ on a sticker and put it on my coat, will it turn it into a fur coat? No. In order to be warm enough for winter, I’d have to invest money,” he says. Sharing his view on the problem, former militia officer Vladimir Noskov notes, “The system has to be changed drastically, but nobody seems to want to make these changes just yet.”
With the contents of the reform law now taking shape, both the authorities and the public will be watching closely to see what, if any, real change does now actually occur.
Olga Kamenchuk, from the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, explained that Russian people don’t have any good associations with the word “police”.
“Two thirds of the Russian population say that, from their point of view, nothing will change after the renaming the current militia into police, or returning the old name,” Kamenchuk told RT. “However, this does not mean that Russians don’t think that changes and reforms which will be undertaken will bring nothing… To a certain extent it might change it in a way that perception of the policemen which are surrounding us and quite often conducting criminal deeds, which get so much public attention, might also be corrected in a way. However, at the moment I’m siding with the population and also do not see how renaming of the police will change the attitude towards it.”
“The major reason why is that the majority of Russians can’t really associate anything with the word ‘police’, when we asked them,” she added. “In most cases when they do, they say it is something foreign, something not Russian, something which is brought to us from other countries.”
“The public is not only expecting change but also the public is getting angry at the police force and something has to be done about it,” he said. “On the other hand, so far the reform does not look like a proper answer to the worries and demands of the public. In that sense I am a little skeptical, though I think things will start moving.”
“I think, in a certain sense, ironically this public debate actually added to public frustration because, first of all, the public did not like the draft of the law as it was offered for the debate. And the general feeling here is that, though there is a lot of criticism of the draft, it is not going to be changed radically,” Kagarlitsky added. “Of course, we have to wait and see what will come out, but so far it is not making the mood much better.”