Russian police prepare for major overhaul

RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov
Just weeks after terrorism and extremism again paid a visit to the Russian capital, President Dmitry Medvedev is putting police reform on the fast track.

­Although the fight against corruption inside the police ranks has been a top priority for the Russian president, the outbreak of a racially-motivated riot just outside the walls of the Kremlin, followed later by a savage terrorist attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport has provided yet more impetus for the initiative.

Medvedev announced the new Police Bill, which will go into effect on March 1.

While mentioning the January 24 Domodedovo bombing, which killed 36 people and injured 193, the Russian leader slammed public safety issues at a “whole host of facilities” to make his case for broadening police powers “to ensure public safety.” 

"The terrorist attack at Domodedovo Airport has shown that at a whole host of facilities public safety issues are being addressed unprofessionally and absolutely unacceptably,” Medvedev told a group of reporters on Monday as the new bill was announced. “The new law considerably enhances the powers of police structures to ensure security of large public gatherings and examine security of facilities of the infrastructure and their protection against terrorism.”

The president added that he hoped “the police will use these powers in the most efficient way."

Medvedev then promised "tough action against any manifestations of extremism and attempts to incite ethnic and religious hatred."

"Extremists must not be given a slightest chance to destabilize the domestic situation,” he said, “particularly when publicly important events take place."

This was clearly a warning to the Interior Ministry that extra precautions must be taken as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, and the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Clearly, there are certain groups that have an interest in spoiling those high-profile international events in an effort to stain Russia’s reputation.

Meanwhile, Medvedev took the opportunity – but not before expressing bewilderment at certain police actions – to acknowledge the police for their “quick work” in solving a recent criminal case that had far-reaching implications.

Around midnight on December 6, a fight broke out between two groups of young people at a bus stop in Moscow. Egor Sviridov, a fan of the Spartak football team, was shot and killed. Although the police quickly detained a group of suspects, who turned out to be natives of the North Caucasus, the individuals were duly released once the identity of the main suspect had been established.

It was only on the evening of December 7, however, that the interrogating officer opened a criminal case under Article 116 of Russia's Criminal Code. Supporters of Sviridov, believing that his killer was escaping justice, took to the streets in protest. On December 8, Russian and Caucasian extremists, taking advantage of a tragic yet isolated act of violence between native Russians and Caucasians, instigated massive race riots in the center of Moscow.

It was exactly such types of extremism and hate crimes that Medvedev said the police would have to be better prepared to protect Russia against in the future.

The head of state also called for enhancing effectiveness of the fight against organized crime.

The Interior Ministry must "raise substantially" the effectiveness of their fight against organized crime, Medvedev said, alluding to certain criminal groups that "have built up around the branches of power and business," he said.

"It was almost impossible to tell where any particular criminal group ends and where a business community or a power branch begins," the president lamented.

Following on the heels of terrorism and extremism, Medvedev acknowledged that corruption continues to be a threat to the public and the state. He even called on the police themselves to report on those who abuse their positions.

"It is outright duty of police to expose those who abuse position," he said. "It is necessary to upset these corruption schemes and expose the attempts at squandering state funds."

Medvedev added that special attention should be given as to how funds are spent on large construction projects, including major facilities of the APEC summit, the Universiade in Kazan, the Sochi Olympics and the World Cup Championship.  

The president then disclosed how the newly-signed police bill will weed out “professionally inept people” from the ranks of the force.

"In accordance with the law…it is assumed that virtually all Interior Ministry personnel will be removed from their staff positions, and then we shall hire some of them back," Medvedev explained.

"I specifically insisted on this procedure, although there were other ideas, because this will make it possible to separate the most worthless and professionally inept people [from the good ones].”

Medvedev said that he accepted full responsibility for the reform of the Interior Ministry.

"You have asked a rhetorical question here, who is responsible for this reform?" I'll tell you who is responsible: it's the country's president. Not the minister, not civil society, but the president is responsible for that," he said in Yekaterinburg at a meeting of the Council on Civil Society and Human Rights on Tuesday. A transcript of the president’s full comments is available on the official Kremlin website.

The Russian leader then stressed that the new law is “just the first step in the transformation of the police.”

"I hope you do not suspect I think that it (the Police Bill) is a perfect document…that I keep repeating and pushing through with some maniacal desire just for the sake to change the name of the police and somehow to immortalize my own name in the history of the Russian law enforcement system," he told the audience.

"I understand that this is quite a historical document with a lot of flaws," admitted Medvedev. "At the same time, I believe that we have improved it during the period when it was discussed."

He then said that it was important not to “emasculate” the police of their powers to protect society.

"I think there are no people here who believe that we must emasculate our police, the police must be effective, so this law should be shaped the way that would let it use its powers effectively," he stressed.

The president added that, with the help of community councils, "certain provisions of the bill, I believe, will continue to improve."

Main Features of the Police Bill

Here is a brief list of some of the features to be found in the new police bill. This list is not official.

1. The document outlines the duties and rights of police, their status, the limitations related to their service, along with requirements for proper police conduct.

2. Outlines specific guidelines for protecting individuals, society and the state from illegal encroachments on the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens, foreigners and those individuals without citizenship.

3. In addition to fighting against crime, the police will work to ensure law and order in public places, the safety of traffic and the protection of property and facilities.

4. A major feature of the bill is the introduction of the so-called Miranda rule (under which the police are required to explain to the detainee his right to legal counsel, translator's services, and the notification of family members about his detention, as well as other requirements.

5. Before entering an individual’s living quarters, a police officer must notify the citizens present there about the reasons for entering. Exceptions to the rule will be made for cases when a delay "causes immediate danger for life or health of citizens and police personnel, or may entail other negative consequences."

6. The bill outlines the equipment authorized for police work, including "batons, gas means, handcuffs, electric shockers, light stun devices. Police dogs, water cannons and armored vehicles also belong to this group as well.

7. Arrange a working relationship between police and citizens. "It will enable each police officer to regard himself part of the society while performing his duties,” Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told reporters, “while the society…will have a better understanding of the fact that it delegated to the police the functions of protecting itself from lawlessness…”

8. The bill also allocates an amount to be paid to the police officers' families in case of the death of the police officer in the line of duty, or as a consequence of the illness developed during the service in police. In case an officer is injured in the line of duty and is no longer able to perform his job he or she is entitled to lump sum compensation in the amount of 60 monthly wages.

Robert Bridge, RT