ROAR: Police plans to “minimize contacts with citizens”

The Russian Interior Ministry and analysts differently assess the discussion continuing on the Internet over the new draft bill on police.

The draft new law On Police was opened for nationwide discussion on a special website Citizens may share their opinions until mid-September.

Most participants of the discussion on the bill On Police approve of its main provisions, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has said. Many of the comments left on the website are “rational and worthy of further expert assessment,” he said, speaking during a video conference with the heads of territorial police bodies on August 18.

“In general, an absolute majority of participants support the main approaches and guidelines of the bill,” the minister was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying. However, citizens also post “controversial and critical” comments, he said, adding that they will be also taken into account.

The website created for the discussion of the bill On Police has so far received over 15,000 proposals, comments and judgments, the chief of the Interior Ministry's legal department Valery Chernikov said. He also stressed that the draft “on the whole is supported by citizens.” The main clauses that have provoked discussion include those related to the use of physical force and weapons by police and the provision for personal databases.

However, some of those discussing the bill think it contains “controversial” clauses. In particular, policemen will not be allowed to “groundlessly complain against their superiors in the media.” But they will be able to express criticism “in the established order,” Chernikov noted.

Russia’s police force has been widely criticized recently in the media and Internet following a spate of violent crimes involving police officers.

Speaking on the new law, Nurgaliev stressed that police would be placed under strict public control. Police will be regularly checked for their knowledge of the Constitution and other laws that regulate the activities of the ministry, he noted.

“The Interior Minister has managed to see public support for the law On Police,” RBC daily noted, adding that “the results of independent polls demonstrate that the ministry’s officials are mistaken.” Many observers also doubt that the majority of Russians support the renaming militia into police and believe that the draft bill lacks details, the paper noted.

Lawyer Leonid Olshansky agrees that vague wording in the draft may lead to uncertainty. “The law should not be a document describing things in general,” he told Noviye Izvestia daily.

One of the new approaches is that the bill allows police officers to use force to prevent any crimes, not only those endangering lives or health of citizens, Natalia Taubina, head of the Public Verdict foundation, told the paper.

At the same time, many observers have not noticed a big difference between the current legislation on police and the new law. “Everything has remained in its place,” said Mikhail Pashkin, chairman of the coordination council of police officers in Moscow and Moscow Region. “Only separate aspects of the old law have been specified,” he told the daily.

The new law, as well as the old one, will not be observed “due to one reason – the average salary of a police officer is 13,000 roubles ($426),” he noted. The new law mentions social guarantees for policemen, but it is unclear “when and what guarantees will be introduced,” he said.

The Interior Ministry intends to abide to principles of “openness and transparency” and video cameras will be used to record communication between policemen and citizens, Trud daily said. The latter especially concerns “the dialogue” between traffic police officers and car owners, the paper added.

The use of information technologies will make it possible to “minimize contacts” with the population, as police officials want. “The ministry is probably trying to defend Russians from its employees,” the paper said. But the question arises how the ministry “is going to get an objective assessment of its activities” in this case, the paper said.

Analysts doubt that Russians approve of the new bill, Vedomosti daily said. “Nurgaliev has been shown something wrong,” Public Chamber member and human rights activist Elena Lukyanova said. It is enough to open a search engine to understand that “citizens do not support the draft bill in its current edition,” she told the paper.

“As a draft this version may be used because bans and restrictions are described well there,” she said. However, many functions of police, including their responsibility for inappropriate implementation and violations of duties should be properly specified, she said.

In its editorial, Vedomosti described the Interior Ministry’s assessment of the discussion on the Internet as “illusions.” How could they say that all citizens may take part in the discussion when it is only conducted on the Internet, the paper asked.

“Where is the support of the majority of Russians if in their proposals, assessments and judgments citizens in fact have stressed the need to rewrite the document and say the number of clauses do not conform to the Constitution,” the paper noted.

The poll conducted by website “showed that 57% of respondents are against renaming the militia to police,” the daily added.

The problem is that “the Interior Ministry is reforming itself, essentially not changing anything,” the paper said. At the same time, the ministry “is persuading itself that the majority of citizens like it,” the daily noted. “If so, there is no need to change anything.”

It is impossible for jurists to assess the bill and take the criticism into account as so little time has passed, the daily said. “But we hope that this work will be done and its result will be a new text of the law rather than an imitation of public support,” it added.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT