An appraisal of Police Reforms: Session of the Presidential Human Rights Council

Natalia Taubina, 11/04/12


· Human rights defenders  · Ministry of Internal Affairs

Natalia Taubina, director of Public Verdict Foundation, writes: On 10 April a session of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights took place dedicated to the issue of police reform. The session had been slated a long time ago. It was first mentioned back in 2011, then it was postponed several times, moved to a different time, and then at the end of February 2012 it was set for the 10 April. In other words, it would be incorrect to assume that this was an emergency meeting, called after the horrendous events in Kazan.

Moreover, it evidently couldn't have taken place at a more apt time, and, probably not for the last time, it was precisely because of recent events and the accompanying public spotlight on the Interior Ministry that the Ministry had meticulously prepared for this meeting. Deputy Minister S.P. Bulavin was present at the (almost six-hour) meeting right to the very end. The heads of the main departments of the Interior Ministry were there, and nearly all of them made short, and some not so short, reports.

The Council had developed a draft proposal, which was presented at the session. By the end of this week this document will be fleshed out and its final draft transferred to the Ministry of the Interior. And by the end of the month it will be on the President's desk. Colleagues from the Working Group of Human Rights NGOs on Police Reform had taken a very active part in putting together the draft recommendations. In particular, this document states: "The reform of the Ministry of the Interior was of a predominantly internal departmental nature and that non-governmental intervention was, in the main, purely formal. The predominantly formal nature of the non-governmental participation in this process has not helped increase the public's trust in the police."

In their speeches the council's members and specialists and representatives of respected human rights organisations provided well-argued criticism of the recent new-style performance review, the principle of setting up public committees attached to the Ministry of the Interior, the appraisal system, the system for monitoring and preventing crimes committed by the police, the system for the training and re-training of police officers and the system of measures for the prevention of corruption. Many of the findings and proposals that were drafted by members of the Working Group can be found on Public Verdict Foundation's website: an overview of, and proposals for, the system of training and professional development, the process of setting up public committees and improving the current appraisal systems.

Today I would like to pay particular attention to the ongoing appraisal of the everyday work carried out by police officers. This is a subject that is not as prominent or terrible as the numerous stories of torture and murder that are so often written about and can be read about on our website. But to my mind, an appraisal of the everyday work of the police, how they deal with people in conflict situations, how comfortable people feel in a police station, and how convenient it is to get the necessary information and help, are all extremely important features of their work. This is exactly the sort of thing that affects practically everyone one of us and is an important element influencing our attitudes towards the police.

At the end of 2011, the Working Group monitored the implementation of the law "On the police" in 5 regions. Our objective was not to observe and appraise the work of the police in extreme and extraordinary circumstances but to observe how they carried out their day to day work, how they are putting into practice the excellent principles of openness, transparency, accountability and the respect for human rights that are enshrined in the law "On the police". During this monitoring process we carried out a number of "mystery shopping" type exercises at a number of police stations.

For this purpose we chose real and common reasons for going to a police station. For example, we approached the police for information about police work, we asked where we might get legal advice, we complained about illegal car parking or about dogs that had been taken out for a walk without a muzzle. The results of our volunteers' visits were set down in specially prepared forms and analysed by us. They showed that our police stations have no facilities at all for disabled people, information displays were available, although they were not always comprehensive or easy to read (they were hung too high, badly lit, etc.), the duty officer and other police officers introduced themselves, but usually only after the visitor had asked them to, the duty officer usually was wearing a badge, but it was either not visible or the writing was so small that it was impossible to read. The duty officers, on the whole, gave clear answers but were very formal, sticking strictly to the regulations and in several cases were dismissive or confusing. For example, in one station a volunteer who had made a complaint about a dog without a muzzle was advised to buy a muzzle and carry it around with her if she was so frightened.

Our review also included surveys taken of people who had been detained. On the whole the rights and freedoms of the people that we surveyed were observed. Practically all of them understood that they had been detained by police officers and the rank, position and surname of the arresting officer was usually given (their names, patronymics and surnames were not always given, most often just the surname was given). But their rights and freedoms were not always explained to them on their arrest and not all of them were warned about the application of special measures. And this is serious - the law requires that a warning should be given before any special measures are taken. The Interior Ministry should pay close attention to this and work on it with their subordinates accordingly.

This generally decent impression disappears when you look at the quantity and contents of the complaints received by human rights organisations. Complaints were also made to the human rights ombudsmen in the regions, investigators at the Investigative Committee or the Prosecutor's Office. The responses from these state bodies to the enquiries that were made within the framework of our monitoring process testify to the validity of the complaints made to them (not all of them, of course, but most).

The results of the review testify to the fact that the vital principles of accountability, transparency and respect for human rights that are enshrined in the law "On the police" have not filtered down into the everyday practices of the police. And in my opinion, if even these principles have not been implemented during the police reform, then it's much too early to start talking about any other changes.

During the session of the Presidential Council, the representatives of the Ministry of the Interior listened intently to all the reports made by the Council’s experts. They noted down issues and occasionally expressed their own specific proposals regarding next steps and future collaboration between civil society and the Ministry of the Interior. One would like to hope that yesterday's meeting was not just a "box ticking" exercise, but an important step in reviewing the reform process and the generation of findings that will encourage the future implementation of genuinely effective measures, with the genuine and not just formal participation of civil society and independent experts. But for now I would just like to end with a remarkable question put by the outstanding and much respected Yury Kostanov at yesterday's meeting: "Comrade Deputy Interior Ministers, are you being serious? Were you born yesterday and have only just found out that the police are torturing people?" One really hopes that the ministry has started to take us seriously and is beginning to treat us with respect, and not like three year old children who will believe almost anything they are told if they are lectured long enough.

Source: Ekho Moskvy
Rights in Russia,
15 Apr 2012, 23:49