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27 Aug, 2009 15:21

Future Russian policemen: honest and polite

Russia’s Interior Ministry has ordered a complete overhaul of police officer training. The step comes after a series of cases where police officers have abused their powers.

Our job, our rules – that is, apparently, how many law enforcement officers in Russia are doing their job now. But while corrupt officers may think they are protected by their badges, there is almost nothing to protect them from a cell phone camera.

That is what happened when a Moscow driver refused to shell out nearly $500 for an unknown “violation”.

“We stopped a police car and asked them for help. Said, our friend was beaten and detained, with no charge – and the officers didn't even show their ID,” recalls Dmitry Kharchenko, a witness.

The police patrol car advised them… to call the police. The beaten man was eventually released without charge, but with one sinister warning – the arresting officers told everyone the video had better not be shown anywhere.

“They're probably ashamed that someone they know will see them acting this way. Or simply that they'll lose their job,” says lawyer Viktor Travin.

And, being sacked is now a very real threat for officers like that.

“We're monitoring these kinds of reports very closely – the video uploads, the newspaper reports. When we see a case, we send our own investigators in and take action,” says Valery Gribakin, spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, simple monitoring is no longer enough and a recent order by the Interior Affairs Minister calls for a complete retraining of all officers, not only enabling them to handle any situation that comes their way, but binding them to be courteous and to know the law thoroughly.

All policemen will be trained to be strong enough to chase and fight a criminal, to keep the crowd and surmount natural hurdles but most importantly, they will be instructed on what the code of ethics for their job is.

Policemen will be taught to behave ethically and to regulate their psychological state in different situations. They will listen to lectures and attend practical classes to reinforce their understanding of “civil and professional duty, honor and dignity.”

The measures come after a series of noted power abuses by the police officers. In the most recent case, two St Petersburg policemen fell under suspicion of torturing two teenagers.

In another incident, a senior Moscow policeman murdered three people in a supermarket after an argument with his wife.

The new training program is due to arrive within six months. It also coincides with a recent call by the head of the Russian Interior Ministry, Rashid Nurgaliev, to fight corruption in the police force.

However, Valery Gribakin of the Interior Ministry said that the changes should not be expected to come immediately.

”Some media have been talking about getting rid of corruption in the Ministry of Internal Affairs within a month. This is not true,” he said. “The one-month period was set to implement anti-corruption measures after we gathered information about officers and their activities.”

In his article for Rossyiskaya Gazeta in July, Nurgaliev acknowledged that Russian police are still operating within the “repressive model” adopted in Soviet times.

He noted that the police force has yet to achieve its genuine goal of protecting Russia’s citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms.

Nurgaliev also pointed out that major institutional changes in the police force, as well as the new “social idea” of what a police force means for society, are needed for any serious transformation to take place.