While beset with continuing public relations problems — most recently regarding raiding a human rights NGO office and allegedly assaulting a worker at the Sochi Winter Olympics site — the Russian police are now contemplating rolling back some of the reforms of recent years.
Former President (and now prime minister) Dmitry Medvedev introduced a wide-ranging new Law on the Police in 2011 that tried to make a break with the Soviet past. Symbolically renaming as police the former ‘militia’, the law also tried to cleanse the force of endemic corruption and improve its relations with society.
This week, though, at a regular meeting with regional ombudsmen, First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Gorovoy — clearly speaking for Interior Minister Alexander Kolokoltsev — indicated that a working group was considering over a hundred proposed changes to the law. This group will meet in July and is expected to make concrete proposals by the fall.
As well as restoring regional commands, the proposed reshuffle is likely to see the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) bring back specialized organized crime directorates. Medvedev controversially abolished the DBOPT organized crime units in 2008, claiming that they were not needed as the ‘mafia’ had been tamed and instead wanting to shift resources into the fight against terrorism and extremism.
However, not only has GUPE, the new Directorate for Combating Extremism, acquired an infamous reputation for the way its officers have targeted democratic activists, but organized crime patently has not disappeared. Indeed, since the murder of senior underworld figure Aslan Usoyan (“Ded Hasan”) in January, the threat of new turf wars has been growing. Kolokoltsev is therefore looking for ways to reverse this decision and reconstitute the DBOPT.
He is also hoping to use this opportunity to introduce further changes. One of the most important would be ending the infamous quota-driven system the MVD inherited from Soviet times — known as the palochka (‘stick’) — which encourages officers to falsify reports and fabricate convictions in the pursuit of promotions and bonuses. Even Russian cops have begun complaining publicly about this system.
A career police officer with a no-nonsense reputation, Kolokoltsev has a genuine desire to improve the workings of the police and their public image. However, part of the impulse for these new reforms is undoubtedly the political turf wars in which the MVD is engaged. On the one hand, the powerful Investigations Committee — which sees itself as Russia’s answer to the FBI — has begun cherry-picking many of the MVD’s best investigators and highest-profile cases. Other agencies have also tried moving into law enforcement, most recently the Federal Migration Service. By bringing the MVD more in line with the real needs of the country, Kolokoltsev hopes not only to allow the police to do a better job, but also to prevent them from being outflanked by other agencies with more political agendas.