People’s trust in police dropped twenty-fold in 20 years

Work on a new Russian law on police is continuing. MP Adalbi Shkhagoshev, who served heroically in the police during the toughest of times, discussed with RT Politics the draft, its weaknesses and crucial terms.

Public discussion of the draft Law on Police, which has been posted on a specially-created web page, is over. More 20,000 suggestions from Russian citizens came in just a few weeks.

Work on the law is still in progress, with discussion now to take place in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house. The draft is actively being criticized by lawyers, experts, rights activists, and the opposition. The fiercest arguments, however, are raging not around the essence of the reform, but around whether the new institution should be called "militsiya", as the case was in the USSR and remains today, or "police".

Critics of the reform have also gone as far as to say that the law cannot ban torture because the very mention of torture legalizes it.

RT: What's the goal of reforming the police and why is it beginning now?

Adalbi Shkhagoshev

- a State Duma deputy from Kabardino-Balkaria, one of the active discussers of the reform

 – graduated from university with a major in history

 – after serving in the army, went to work with the Ministry of Internal affairs in 1991

 – during a nationalist opposition meeting in 1992, neutralized a hand grenade that a terrorist planned to throw into the crowd. The explosion tore away both palms of his hands. He refused to receive the “Hero of Russia” honor

 – ran for the State Duma in 2003 and lost, but proved later that an election fraud had taken place

Adalbi Shkhagoshev:I think the reform is necessary first of all to lower the general level of corruption in the entire law enforcement system. Not only the police, but the entire law enforcement system must be reformed. We need to make sure that this entire complex of institutions serves people. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) must win back the confidence of the people.

RT: You came to work with the police 20 years ago, after graduating from university, when all doors were open to you. You could have gone into business or science. Why did you choose law enforcement? What reputation did the MVD have back then?

AS:Compared to what there is now, all systems in the MVD were working much faster. We have lost very much in respect to the police over those years. We can say that over 20 years, the trust in the police has become 20 times lower. Back then, the police was a dignified institution; people couldn’t have thought about today's levels of corruption. The MVD also had a normally functioning Internal Security Directorate those days. I wanted to be a law enforcement officer, and I deliberately went to fight organized crime. It was known as the Operation and investigation Bureau.

RT: Is there an understanding as to what exactly happened to the police, when it happened, and what has to be changed?

AS:Everybody understands that the quality of police work is very poor now and that a reform is needed immediately; this is the key factor. There is such understanding among officers, the authorities, the experts, and in the community. The success of the reform depends on what form the new law takes.

Simple as it may sound, what happened to the police is explained by the fact that the Internal Affairs Ministry, along with the entire society, was going through a transition from socialism to a different kind of society. This transition period is where we are now.

Adalbi Shkhagoshev (image from
All moral bearings and socialist principles vanished in one moment, and nothing came to replace them. Officers' salaries turned into nothing. That time was when we lost 80 to 90 per cent of real professionals in operative work, the backbone and pride of the police, those who really worked and solved crimes. Most of them went into private businesses, while the police force was left without personnel. At the same time, the top of the MVD turned into a mechanism through which bigger and bigger corruption schemes were being implemented. The late 1980s and ’90s were the time when the Ministry stopped protecting the law and people's rights: there was just nobody to protect them, and the state had neither the will nor the power to break the tendency. No one in the country cared about the MVD, as the entire country was trying to rebuild itself on the go. I can say that officers themselves didn’t believe that anybody in the state would ever dare to start this reform. The very fact that it has begun is a good thing. Let's see how it works out.

RT: What’s the basis of the new law? Is it a revised version of the old law or is it modeling some foreign document? Who has rewritten it? Who’s going to take account of public amendments?What is the Soviet militsiya?

- formed after the 1917 October Revolution as a self-defense organ of the power of workers and peasants

 – the archetypal heroic image of a "militsionaire" (“policeman” in Russia) was that of "Uncle Styopa", the character of a poetic story about a brave policeman who was always there to help, selflessly, all people, young and old, and that of Aniskin, a rural district officer, a kindhearted and humane professional

 – the Soviet police's track record includes fighting the exhausting battle against gangs after the October Revolution and after WWII, solving the issue of hundreds of thousands of war-orphaned children, fighting thief rings, food speculators, underground workshops, and so on

 – the militsiya's reputation among the population was always high compared to that of secret services and counterintelligence service

AS: The very fact that the draft has been posted in the Internet is good. It means the discussion is being open. At present, people have made over 20,000 amendments and proposals. Let’s wait and see which of them will be taken into account. The saddest thing so far is that the people have totally forgotten about the basic law enforcement link, i.e. middle and lower rank policemen.

You won’t see professional police investigators or local police officers taking part in the debate. However, they are the people who are really supposed to protect people’s rights.

So far we have seen senior Interior Ministry officials and experts, including foreign ones, expressing their views. But it’s only people working at the very bottom of the system, middle- and low–rank policemen, who can carry out real reform. Without them, reform will never become viable.

RT: Society has a certain idea, which may be superficial, that the lowest ranks are the worst hit by corruption. What do you think?

AS: Of course, there are bribe-takers among them too. But the Interior Ministry leadership cannot reorganize its work as radically as those who work directly with the population. The leadership should be listened to, but it’s not them who should carry out the reform. The law enforcement system has its own experience of restructuring when the middle and lower ranks rise to the top and radically change the entire structure of work. This makes it possible to curb the established corruption schemes.

Now, many employees are becoming non-staff workers. They are writing applications to be transferred to some renamed unit after they’ve passed an exam. Can it be called a reform? A lot will depend on who’s going to examine them. But even this method is not enough to solve all the problems.

RT: You were born in the Caucasus. Do you think that the region is looking forward to this reform?

AS: Yes, they are waiting for it as elsewhere in Russia, with the only difference that a war against terrorism is underway in the Caucasus. I am sure that a strong operative force whose specific task will be to fight terrorism is the only way to make this anti-terror effort effective. These people should be able to tell a true terrorist from a “sympathizer”. I personally don’t like this phrase, but it has become frequent of late. A prosecutor may ask how many terrorists there are in the republic. A figure of 100 doesn’t suit him. Then he would say: “Well, it’s 200, together with those who sympathize.” How effective is this work? Today, these methods can only help law enforcers to eliminate the seats of terror but not to decrease terrorist activities altogether. Law enforcers fitted out with modern equipment and acting under public control seems to be the only solution.

RT: What is public control?

AS:A system of public control is needed. It will be a kind of intermediary between law enforcers and those who “sympathize” with terrorists. These people should learn to distinguish a radical armed terrorist from ordinary prayers. They should stop listing those who pray as terrorists and their accomplices. Without that, our campaign against terrorism will be deadlocked.

RT: Does the anti-terror struggle remain in the competence of the Interior Ministry?

AS: It’s also an important question. Various agencies, including the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry, fight terrorism. But organized crime is still there. However, anti-organized crime units have been disbanded and their employees have been transferred to departments that fight extremism. We lost 50 per cent of all operatives in that renaming process. A good operative worker knows what a criminal is like. But does he know anything about extremism and how to fight it? We should think about creating a special unit in the Caucasus under this reform that would use more complicated schemes in dealing with terrorism.

RT: Has the question of renaming the militsiya to police been settled?

AS:I think that it has, but I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it. There are many questions on the content of this reform and it would be more positive to ponder over them.

Key points of the reform

- bring back district officers

 – bring back and reinforce operatives

 – give low- and medium-ranking professionals access to discussions

 – restore the corporate spirit of the ministry

 – establish local public councils

 – minimize the “fight against extremism”, which is hard to qualify in legal terms

RT: Does the reform provide for any staff cuts?

AS: Yes, there are plans to cut the Interior Ministry staff by 30 per cent. Several months ago, the president said there would be no job cuts in the Caucasus because of the difficult situation. I believe that dismissing operatives and local police officers would be bad for the Caucasus, while the leadership, economic and trade services should be cut as elsewhere in the country. At present, there’s one employee for each excise stamp. They don’t need so many controllers in the Caucasus. They need more operative investigators.

RT: Human rights activists have gone as far as claiming that the new law shouldn’t ban torture because the very word torture makes these methods legal. What do you think?

AS: Torture is a crime. The president has suggested doubling the responsibility of the Interior Ministry workers for this crime as compared to ordinary citizens. It seems to me that this approach is going to be effective if it’s implemented.

RT: What are the main problems do you think?

AS: There is a problem of local police officers. In rural areas, we used to know every local police officer. Those people had authority. Now there are no local police officers. All of them are involved in some other activities. For example, they may be sent to protect a facility or be assigned with another task. But they can never be found on-site. However, a local police officer is the most vital element of law enforcement.

Disunity in the Interior Ministry is another big problem. Things have taken such a turn that criminal groups have started blackmailing the MVD’s staff and can force them not to file criminal lawsuits. They see that the Ministry has a discord and no corporate spirit. Criminals can threaten an Interior Ministry employee and will never be rebuffed. This is ridiculous.

The Ministry has many honest employees who will be a credit to any reconnaissance party. They know how to get rid of corruption. They risk their lives disclosing crimes. Given the initiative, they will know how to carry out the reform.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT