ROAR: Reform will turn Russian militia into police

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russian authorities are continuing to gradually reform the police, but many politicians and public figures say more radical measures are needed.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev signed on January 21 an order reviewing the system of evaluating police performance. According to the ministry’s officials, from now on the performance will not be based on the number of reports of solved crimes. This system of getting “sticks” in police jargon has been much criticized by citizens and human rights activists.

The review of the evaluation system is seen as another step to gradually reforming the police, or, as it is called in Russia, the militia. The recent wave of crimes committed by policemen in different parts of the country provoked public anger and made the reform inevitable.

Nurgaliev noted that the Interior Ministry had been trying to review the system of evaluating the performance of policemen since 2005, but many say it has not changed much. The new order might not bring positive changes either, Kommersant daily said.

The new document signed by Nurgaliev “repeats in many ways an order made in 2005,” the paper said. According to the previous order, “to get a positive assessment of its activities, police should increase the number of those prosecuted on criminal or administrative accusations compared to the previous year,” the daily said.

The minister, however, noted “a revolutionary character of the new order because it brings new criteria taking into account public opinion,” the daily said. Nurgaliev also promised to gather information about the police’s activities from “independent sources,” but it is not clear what sources he meant, the paper said.

“Human rights activists quickly assessed the order as positive,” the daily said. “For many years we have insisted that public opinion should be a criterion to evaluate police performance,” Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the Public Chamber said.

The interior minister understands that “public opinion now is extremely negative towards police officers,” Kucherena told the daily. “But he also understands that, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it could be, the ministry will have to be reformed, so that it works not for the quantity [of solved crimes] but for the quality.”

Oleg Novikov from Public Verdict, a human rights foundation, believes that the new system of the evaluation “will not make police closer to people, but it is still an important move.” “In the majority of briefs held by our lawyers in recent years on crimes committed by policemen, the motivation of officers was [to finish] an investigation as quick as possible to improve statistics,” he told the paper.

The comparison of the two Interior Ministry orders shows that the new document does not abrogate the “sticks system,” Kommersant said. At the same time, the Nurgaliev order introduces such new criteria of assessing police performance as “decisions of courts or organs of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

However, the order may not work for a long time, the paper said, adding that the idea of the so-called rebranding of the militia “is being actively promoted in the higher echelons of power.”

During the reform the militia can be renamed to police, head of Audit Chamber and former Interior Minister Sergey Stepashin said on January 21. Last week, Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, also proposed to reorganize the militia into a federal police. “By renaming itself, the militia may change,” Mironov said.

The speaker believes that federal police should fight crime and conduct investigations. Militia can be preserved only to keep public order at the municipal level, and its chiefs should be elected by the population, Mironov said.

Others suggest that local people should elect neighborhood police inspectors. Stepashin believes Russia should not “copy” the US experience, but stressed that the opinion of the population should be taken into consideration while appointing inspectors.

Many analysts and politicians believe the Russian police needs more radical reforms. Andrey Makarov, deputy of the State Duma from ruling United Russia party, said recently that the present police force cannot be changed and should be disbanded. Renaming the militia will not change anything, Makarov told Ekho Moskvy radio. Measures are needed to create a system that does not “generate scoundrels,” he said.

The media say the forthcoming reform will not stop at renaming. Russian authorities have been planning to create a police responsible for fighting grave crimes, and militia will keep public order, Vedomosti daily said.

A third option – the National Guard – may appear to combine special forces of the current police, it added. According to the paper, the Interior Ministry may also lose investigative functions, which will be transferred to the Investigative Committee.

The daily also predicts that Stepashin and Nurgaliev will change their positions. However, other sources say that Nurgaliev “will preserve his place” and that he has been developing the reform of the ministry “for himself.”

Meanwhile, police may also lose control over detoxification centers and hand them over to medical professionals after a policeman beat a Tomsk journalist Konstantin Popov in a detox center. The journalist later died in a hospital.

The attacker, policeman Aleksey Mitaev, explained his actions were due to psychological stress. Mikhail Vinogradov, the director of the Moscow Center for Legal and Psychological Assistance in Extreme Situations, told Noviye Izvestia daily that a great number of people with unhinged minds work in law enforcement agencies.

The lack of psychological control over policemen and protectionism “helps alcoholics, people with unbalanced minds and even psychopaths to get into the service,” Vinogradov said.

In a separate move, the heads of Russia’s leading media sent an open letter to the interior minister demanding “protection for journalists and society against police arbitrariness” after policemen detained Andrey Stenin, a photographer for RIA Novosti news agency, for covering an anti-government rally. He was fined for 500 roubles (about $17) by a court. This incident may set a precedent for prosecuting journalists “while they perform their professional duty,” the letter said.

Observers and human rights activists doubt that the possible reform will bring quick results. “The Interior Ministry needs new staff, new structure, new rules, but there are no conditions for that,” Valery Borshchev of the Moscow Helsinki Group told Kommersant. “So far nobody has persuaded us that something may come out of it,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT