ROAR: “Police for society, not society for police”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The Interior Ministry should not reform itself, analysts say, stressing the need for public control over law enforcement agencies.

Dmitry Medvedev has reshuffled senior Interior Ministry staff and proposed new measures to reform the country’s policing body. He started the reform at the end of last year, and on February 18, he “promised a new life for the Interior Ministry – higher salaries, no unnecessary functions and rotation of the ruling staff,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. He also announced the stages of reforming police for this year, it said.

Society is waiting for better results and responsibility from the ministry, the paper noted, adding that “almost 70% of citizens do not trust law enforcement agencies.” The echo of public opinion, confirmed by a number of notorious incidents involving police officers “has been heard in the Kremlin,” the daily said.

The first steps of the serious reform of the Interior Ministry will be “the optimization of structure and staff,” the paper said. The ministry’s staff will be slashed 20% by 2012.

“Medvedev started reforming the police by dismissing 17 generals and two deputies of the minister, cutting the ruling staff by half, and toughening responsibility for policemen,” Vedomosti daily said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev is retaining his post despite a number of recent incidents involving police officers. But his position “will depend on how he will implement the president’s order to reform the ministry,” a source in the presidential administration told Vedomosti. “The replacement of the minister cannot be a reaction to any particular crimes of policemen, and no dismissal will solve a systemic problem,” the source stressed.

Nurgaliev should submit concrete proposals on reforming the ministry by March. However, Medvedev “worked instead of the minister” during the meeting of the expanded board of the ministry on February 18, the daily said. The head of state did not wait for the proposals and announced his decisions, it added.

However, “mainly pensioners and those whose posts are being liquidated together with their departments” were sacked, Vedomosti said, adding that the most important were dismissals of deputy ministers Nikolay Ovchinnikov and Arkady Yedelev. But Yedelev may be appointed head of the ministry’s directorate in the newly created North Caucasus federal district, the media say.

“The measures proposed by Medvedev are right, but they are not sufficient,” believes Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Security Committee. “Essentially, the ministry itself is conducting the reform now, which is not right,” he said. Instead of this, the Prosecutor General’s Office should strengthen supervision over investigators, Gudkov said.

The deputy also has spoken in favor of the establishment of a special commission independent of the Interior Ministry, with the participation of parliamentarians and representatives of civil society, that will select the ministry’s top officials.

So far only two new deputy ministers have been appointed, even though almost 20 top officials have been dismissed, Gazeta daily said. Both Sergey Bulavin and Sergey Gerasimov recently worked in the presidential administration.

“When concrete legal, economic and political problems are to be addressed, other people and methods should be used,” Igor Bunin, head of the Center for Political Technologies, told the paper, explaining the president’s choice.

Analysts also believe that Medvedev wants to have younger people on the ministry’s top positions and “wants to strengthen personal control over the ministry’s work,” Gazeta said. What is going on now in the ministry is a long-awaited renewal of personnel rather than “a purge,” State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Gurov told the paper.

The replacement of top officials in the Interior Ministry is long overdue, Gurov believes. “People sit in the same place for years,” he said. “Now new people will come with new ideas.”

Many observers, however, are rather cautious about the perspectives of the reform. “It is an extremely difficult task,” Genry Reznik, a prominent lawyer and member of the Public Chamber, told Gazeta.

Several officials were dismissed, but seeing as a fundamental overhaul of the ministry is needed, “it will be very difficult to find new people,” Reznik said. Those who now come to top positions in the ministry “will have to change criteria of assessment of work and ideology,” he noted. “Our police should consider itself part of the population,” he added.

“The main thing in reforming the police is to change its attitude to people,” agrees Nikolay Kovalev, chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Veterans and director of the Federal security service in 1996–1998. “The law enforcement system should exist for society rather that society for the law enforcement system,” he told the paper.

Analysts also highlighted Medvedev’s proposal to consider “any crime committed by a policeman or a law enforcement agent an aggravated circumstance.” The president has found “the optimal legal formula,” Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the State Duma Security Committee, told Kommersant daily.

However, many observers are rather skeptical about this measure as many police officers who commit crimes are usually dismissed before they get accused. Moreover, there are already enough legal regulations that make it possible to charge a policeman, Andrey Babushkin, chairman of the For Civil Rights public committee, told the daily.

The problem is that now such crimes are not investigated properly “and there is no mechanism of control over such investigations,” Babushkin stressed.

Lev Ponomarev, a prominent human rights activist, welcomed the dismissals of top “bureaucrats” in the Interior Ministry, but stressed that reform should concern officers in regional directorates too. “It is not top officials who burst into a supermarket while being drunk and stage massacre there,” he told Gazeta, referring to the accident with Major Denis Yevsyukov.

“The country has not seen such a large-scale reform of a law enforcement agency,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta said, calling the measures proposed by Medvedev “unprecedented”. At the same time, the situation in the Interior Ministry is similar to that in other executive bodies, the paper quoted deputy Aleksandr Moskalets as saying. They also have big staffs and tend “to fulfill their internal functions rather than implement their tasks,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT