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18 Feb, 2010 16:04

Medvedev launches major police reform

From tougher punishment for policemen to staff cuts and high level dismissals – President Dmitry Medvedev has announced a wide range of changes aimed at making Russia’s Internal Ministry work more effectively.

Among the measures taken by the president is a reshuffle of senior Interior Ministry staff. Medvedev issued a decree on Thursday relieving Nikolay Ovchinnikov of his duties as State Secretary and Deputy Interior Minister, and another relieving Arkady Yedelev of his duties as Deputy Interior Minister. Sergey Gerasimov and Sergey Bulavin were appointed in their stead, the Kremlin press service reports.

All in all, 16 high-ranking police officials have been fired in Russian regions.

Earlier in the day, the president held a meeting with the joint law enforcement board where other radical changes were announced.

“I propose that any crime committed by a policeman or a law enforcement agent should be considered an aggravated circumstance,” Medvedev said.

The Interior Ministry became the focus of public attention following a recent spate of violent crimes and corruption scandals involving police officials.

The Russian leader has issued a decree to begin optimizing the structure and functions of the Ministry and stressed that he is going to control the reform personally.

President Medvedev informed that the staff of the Ministry’s headquarters will be cut by almost half: from 19,900 to 10,000 officials.

The president pointed out that the rate of solved crimes is important, but there should be no whitewashing of statistics and “the measures to fight the crime should correlate with its scale.”

At the same time the head of state ordered to raise the clear-up rate because, out of around 1.3 million of crimes committed in Russia last year, only every second one has been solved.

The president has specifically outlined that fighting corruption and criminal pressure on business is one of the key issues of the Ministry’s work.

“We need to do a lot to clear our state and municipal structures of that evil,” he concluded.

Dmitry Medvedev has ordered that a principal bill detailing the functions of law enforcement agencies be formed by December 1, 2010.

Police would no longer be responsible for extradition of illegal immigrants and persons without citizenship, while technical examination of vehicles and all medical departments of sobriety would be handed over to the public health authorities.

He also spoke about the vital need to bolster security in the volatile Caucasus region to “resist extremism and eliminate militant activity in the North Caucasus.”

However, Medvedev found time for praise as well as criticism. The head of state thanked the officers of the Ministry of Interior Affairs for the support they performed for the state structures at the time of economic crisis, which helped to avoid a considerable rise of criminal violence in the country.

The reforms are necessary because of changes within society and new problems arising as a result of them, said Professor Valery Utkin, from the Criminology Department of the Moscow University of the Internal Affairs Ministry (MVD). “The nature of crime has changed the same as the economic, social and other factors that are influencing it,” he told RT.

Economic crimes are on the rise and extremism has become more common, so measures should be taken to tackle these problems, Utkin noted.

As Article 63 of the Russian Criminal Code says, the “commission of a crime with the use of uniforms or documents of representatives of the authorities” is a circumstance aggravating punishment. Adding such a circumstance as commission of a crime by a policeman would have its nuances and possible drawbacks, the professor said. The question is: “would it apply to any crime?” Utkin continued, “Perhaps this clause would only relate to…official malfeasance, forgery, grave offenses such as murder.”

As for why these measures are being considered, the analyst said “A law enforcement agent wields authority, and using it is easier for one to commit a crime.”

However, he noted, legislators should be careful, since the measure should not be used on a mass scale. “For instance, if there is a family argument and the husband is a policeman. So, should he bear stricter punishment? I do not think so.”

The president has also urged the raise of crime detection rates. But why is it so low now? First of all, Utkin said, it is because “the professional level of some groups of specialists is pretty low”. Also, the civil position of the population should be more active.

“It is impossible to get a 100% clear-up rate, but raising it is indeed possible, and we do have the possibility to do so,” Utkin added.

Olga Kamenchuk from the Russian Public Opinion Research Center believes that the reform of Russian law enforcement is long-awaited.

“There is a growing concern in society about the quality of our law enforcement officers and law enforcement bodies,” she said. “It is clear and it is seen by the responses we get from society that something needs to be done, stricter criteria should be applied to those people who are going to work in the law enforcement bodies, the ones who are going to protect us.”