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"We Must Not Allow a Mockery to be Made of Police Reform!"

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25 December 2009

· Human Rights Defenders  · Police  · Partners’ Campaigns  · Perm

"Special attention will have to be devoted to the easily predicted sabotage of the reforms by local police bureaucracies that have turned public service into a comfortable and profitable way of life..." [1]

Appeal to Supporters from the Organizers of the Public Campaign “For Fundamental Police Reform” [2]

Dear Fellow Citizens, Comrades, Colleagues,

Our common efforts have brought success, even if the success is as yet small. President Dmitry Medvedev has stated it is his policy to “perfect the work of the police”. So in one way or another, police reform has begun. 

We congratulate all participants in the nationwide public campaign “For Fundamental Police Reform” on this decision of the President. We congratulate the participants and activists of all other civic initiatives, organizations and groups who are demanding radical reform of the police. We congratulate those honest, conscientious police officers and journalists who have been telling all of us, and the authorities, about the disgraceful practices that take place in Russian law enforcement agencies. We congratulate all those who in recent months have used every possible means to convince the authorities to at last begin a fundamental reform of the police.

The reform has begun. It is not ideal. It could get bogged down in the cowardice of politicians and the sabotage of bureaucrats. It could turn out to be the usual bureaucratic mystification. But reform has begun and much depends, as before, on us. In fact, the most important thing depends on us: only we, independent citizens of Russia, can guarantee a real reform of the police. 

If the President really has decided to turn the ‘punitive organs’ into ‘organs protecting our security,’ we must assist the President. If the President hopes that everything will end up in half-measures, we must put the President right. 

The Presidential Decree itself and the orders he has issued do not yet guarantee the fundamental resolution of the problems of the police service. 

A simple reduction in the numbers of police officers by 20 percent will not allow the significant, at least twofold, increase in the pay of those police officers in direct contact with the public that would ensure a flow of new personnel into the police from the middle levels of society.

The total subordination to the federal authorities of those elements of the police that deal with the prevention of crime and protect the public will probably raise levels of police discipline and secure a relative independence for the police from local mafia and business tycoons. But such a change will also result in a final breach between the police and the public. The Presidential Decree does not envisage any mechanisms to strengthen public oversight over law enforcement. 

In the Decree the main instrument of ‘improvement’ of the police is the police ministry itself, which can but give grounds for pessimism about the proposed reform. No institution can fundamentally change itself, and the best that such a situation can achieve is a quality ‘cosmetic remake’. Only an official government body outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the police ministry) can guarantee serious changes (in one East European country, to eliminate any conflict of interest, radical reform of the police had to be given to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

It is not clear from the Decree whether there will be any serious rotation of personnel, whether of leading police officials or at lower levels of the hierarchy. And how thoroughly will the ‘structural optimization’ and ‘freeing the police from functions which are not their proper concern’ be implemented? The Decree does not even mention the problem of the notorious ‘points system’ that demoralizes the police by setting planned indicators for solving crimes. And so on and so forth. Much is unclear, and there is plenty of room left for obfuscation. But the publication of further materials on the proposed reform, to follow the Decree, may clarify matters. The main assessments and concrete plans are yet to come, both from government and from us. 

In any case, while giving the President’s initiative its due, we consider that the nationwide public campaign ‘For Fundamental Police Reform’ should not be brought to an end. But we need to review our tasks, and concentrate our efforts on supporting reform or, depending on the circumstances, on preventing a mockery being made of reform. 

Special attention will have to be devoted to the easily predicted sabotage of the reforms by local police bureaucracies that have turned public service into a comfortable and profitable way of life. 

We also support the initiative to create a ‘Club of Supporters of Police Reform’, involving all the main civic organizations and campaigns that have as their goal the achievement of fundamental police reform. 

Initiators of the nationwide public campaign “For Fundamental Police Reform”: 

I. V. Averkiev (Perm Civic Chamber)
V. D. Bederson (political scientist)
V. V. Kovbasiuk (Andrei Luchnikov) (internet publication “A Different Kind of Newspaper – Berezniki Town”:
S. V. Makovetskaya (GRANI - independent analytical centre, Perm)
A. A. Marchenkov (philosopher, media activist, Youth Human Rights Movement) 
A. I. Nikitin (independent journalist, Perm)
S. V. Ponomarev (Perm youth Memorial society)
K. A. Sulimov (political philosopher, Perm State University)