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Media coverage - first step to stop rampages by cops

The fact that Russian media has begun covering police rampages is a recent development and a good sign, Fred Weir from the Christian Science Monitor newspaper told RT.

On Wednesday, criminal charges were filed against two senior policemen who were involved in a shooting spree in which three people were wounded in the city of Samara in the southeastern region of European Russia.

In the beginning of October, Aleksandr Khabarov and his brother Sergey dropped in at a local restaurant where they became drunk and started a fight which ended in the shootings, according to reports.

Luckily for their victims, the shots were fired from air guns, otherwise the injuries might have been much more serious.

Meanwhile, no criminal case was launched, as authorities said it was an ordinary street fight.

“The police didn't even confiscate their weapons and stopped asking any questions as soon as they saw their police IDs,” said Oleg Dolgaev, one of the victims.

Only when details were made public did prosecutors begin looking into the incident.

“All the materials on this case were confiscated from the police and are now being studied by the Investigative Committee. One of the suspects has temporarily been suspended from his duties,” according to Ulyana Kudimova of the Prosecutor’s Office.

In April, another incident when a police rampage turned into a tragedy received a lot of media attention. Back then, Major Denis Yevsyukov, also drunk, shot two people dead and injured seven in a gun spree in a Moscow supermarket.

Indeed, such a trend is not very encouraging.

However, we do know about these cases and this, Fred Weir says, is because the “Russian media is covering this and this is a rather recent development”. In addition, the media has begun “to cover attempts, like in the case in Samara, by local prosecutors to block investigation”.

“That suggests that something is changing,” Weir added.

“There probably always was this culture of impunity where police thought that they were above the law and that even if they went over the line their brother police and the prosecutors and officials would cover up for them,” he said.

Cases like those in Samara or Moscow are not something that happens only in Russia. “I think this is a problem absolutely everywhere,” Weir said.

The explanation is that “the police officer with a gun and a badge is in a unique position, where he represents the law, but the temptations to abuse that position exists everywhere”.

But is there a way to stop police rampages?

In the US, for instance, “over a series of decades the problem has become much less”.

Primarily it’s “because of a combat by the media that goes after cases or broadcasts different aspects of them and evokes public outrage, which then has a feedback effect on officials and makes them move with investigations,” Weir said.

So, he concluded, it’s good to see that the same thing has begun happening in Russia.

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