President summarizes citizens’ proposals on police reform

President Dmitry Medvedev has summed up the results of the first ever nationwide discussion of a draft Law on the Police and vowed to consider most crucial amendments suggested by Russian citizens.

The Russian head of state dubbed the experience of such public discussions “interesting and positive” and suggested that it should become common practice for all important bills in the future.

“No one should be discouraged with the fact that 99 per cent of remarks were critical. What else did we expect [to hear]? ‘Thanks a lot for coming up with a law on police, we are so happy’?” he said. “Of course people were submitting their comments to make amendments to some articles of the draft and expressing their opinions.” According to the president, “it is quite normal” and such work should be continued.

The draft of the Law on the Police was open for discussion from August 7 to September 15 on a specially-launched website – . The bill is a key element of a major reform of the Internal Affairs Ministry launched in 2009, and is aimed at making the police work more efficiently and transparently.

Speaking Thursday at a meeting on law enforcement issues, Medvedev said that all in all, 33,000 comments were posted on the website – 20,000 were concrete proposals on how to improve the law.

“It shows that people do care about what the law enforcement system will be like, how the crimes will be combated and public order provided,” Medvedev stated. He said all the suggestions and remarks that citizens had voiced have been studied carefully, and many have been included in a report which will be published later.

The president focused on several “sensitive” issues that specifically worry the public. These include the procedure of the police entry into homes, creating a call center for complaints, introducing “Miranda warning” rule and a right to one phone call, and obliging police officers wear identity badges.

Article15 of the bill providing for unimpeded police entry into homes has sparked perhaps the fiercest criticism among the public, with many claiming that it violates Article 25 of the Russian Constitution, protecting for the inviolability of the home.

Commenting on the issue, Medvedev said that such regulation should exist, but it is necessary to regulate in detail the procedure of police officers’ entry into homes.

The president also observed that in fact this regulation is not a novelty and has been in use for many years. “It is indeed all about the version [of the regulation]. But it refers to exceptional cases, mainly those connected with saving people’s lives or detention of criminals,” he said.

Hotline for complaints about police to be created

A new call-center – a unified hotline for citizens to voice their complaints over illegal police actions – will soon be created. President Medvedev has instructed the government to work on the issue.

“This service should be free of charge and it should be possible to call the center from any part of Russia for free,” he underlined.

The current police number, 02, has existed since the Soviet era, but its main purpose is for citizens to actually call the police, rather than complain about their actions. Indeed, there are phone numbers of organizations that people can apply to if they want to report rights violations, but the majority of the population are not aware of them and often do not know what to do when they believe police have acted illegally.

The new generally-accessible hotline is needed “to report on police negligence and violations of human rights,” Medvedev explained. The main point of the idea to create the call-center, Medvedev said, is “to build up law and order within the police.”

Yet another phone-related topic raised during the nationwide discussion referred to a detainee’s right to one phone call, which is a common practice in the West. However, Russians may soon get a similar right, as the president has instructed authorities to come up with proposals on the issue.

The president said that currently this regulation applies only to underage citizens. The positive side of making this a general practice is the observation of human rights. Medvedev pointed out, though, that there can be some negative sides in what relates to carrying out an investigation. There is a possibility that a suspect would use the right to call to cover up the crime. But since other countries have managed to cope with this, Medvedev said, the same can be done in Russia.

Policemen to be obliged to give “Miranda warning”

A clause obliging policemen to inform suspects on their rights should be included in the draft law, President Medvedev said. This regulation is used in many countries, he added.

Known in the US as the Miranda warning, for Russians it has so far been just an attribute of Hollywood movies. While submitting their ideas on the draft, many people insisted that Russian policemen should also read detainees their constitutional rights and explain what they can do under the law.

“On the one hand, this practice may seem to be pure formality which gives nothing. On the other, it provides for rather reasonable judicial effect,” Medvedev noted. He said that he believes it is possible to include the regulation into the law on the police. “Let it be. It would not create too much trouble for a policeman and it won’t harm a detainee to hear [one’s rights] once again,” he stated.

The president also urged the necessity to introduce a rule making policemen wear identity badges, which would provide the name of the law enforcement agency employee and which agency he or she serves. Medvedev said that it often happens that police officers ask people to show their IDs, while introducing themselves anyway they want. In many cases this results in clashes as people start demanding – whether in a polite way or not – to see the police officer’s documents in response.

Militsiya or police: what’s in a name?

There have been heated debates over the new name for the Russian law enforcement agency that the draft proposes. So far it has been called “militsiya” – a name inherited from Soviet times, where it was first introduced after the October Revolution of 1917. Now it is proposed that the militsiya should be renamed as the police.

A lot of people have been rather skeptical over the proposal, suggesting that in fact that could be the only significant change that the reform would bring. For many, the renaming makes no sense at all, and they believe it would be nothing but a waste of money.

“There can be different approaches. A bit of skepticism over the issue is understandable. Naturally, many have the impression that the only thing [they authorities] want to do is to simply rename militsiya as police, and thus demonstrate that a reform has been carried out,” Medvedev said.

“This, of course, is completely wrong,” he stressed. “The aim of the law is to create an efficient law enforcement system. The name is secondary,” Medvedev underlined.

However, he admitted, to some extent the name is important too. According to the president, “Police should be a modern and efficient structure – just as it is anywhere in the world, in many developed countries.”

Finally, Medvedev stressed that the law cannot be shelved and should be adopted in the nearest future, since “it is the main document to serve the purpose of the reforming of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”

The head of state has given the government two weeks to finalize the work on the draft, Internal Affairs Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the media after the meeting.

Natalia Makarova, RT