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A moral interlude: Russian police suspend corruption

A strange thing is happening in Russia: the police have stopped taking bribes. It is all down to President Medvedev’s police reform, enacted last month, and in particular a ‘recertification’ process designed to weed out the force’s most corrupt officers. Andrei Gridasov sought out the views of rank-and-file policemen, who quickly reassured him it would be business as usual once the review is over.

Andrei Gridasov
1 April 2011

Dmitry, traffic police

“We’ve had an unofficial suspension on bribes in place since January, ever since our new boss arrived from Yaroslavl’. We’re watching to see what happens, frankly, but we aren’t expecting anything good. We’ve got other things to worry about anyway.  Many of our guys got fired – and not just “on paper”, but actually fired.

Russian militia Ulianovsk

The vast majority of Russian citizens have little trust in the police

None of this made any difference to the quota for collecting fines, of course. We’ve now got to get the same results with fewer people. 300 fine-forms per day: for crossing the street in the wrong place, for driving without a safety-belt and the like. We’re expected to run around the entire area registering traffic accidents. And what this means is we’re working without days in lieu or holidays, and 15-17-hour shifts are pretty normal. So when I stop a person who then offers me money, I have to think long and hard about whether I register his ticket officially, or earn a bit for myself.

We’re working without compensatory holidays and days-off, and 15-17-hour shifts are pretty normal. So when I stop a person who then offers me money, I have to think long and hard about whether I register his ticket officially, or earn a bit for myself.

Some have already given up: at the beginning of March thirty inspectors filed for resignation. The management crapped themselves and promised to reduce the quota and create a normal working schedule. But, you know, from 1st March they’ve been reviewing everyone’s position in Head Office, so for now it’s safer to lay low and stay away from any trouble. Why would I risk a job that regularly feeds me extra for some 500 rubles [£11] or even for 10,000 [£220]? If you fail the review you risk losing the job forever. I wanted to get a bank credit to buy Honda, but it’d have to wait. It’s better to wait around. We’ll catch up with what we’ve lost once the review is over".

Igor, Central Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs

“Yep, you’re right, there’s a moratorium on bribes in place at the moment. You can see this even in the crime reports: not a single high-up officer has been caught out recently. It’s all down to this review. You have this choice during the review: to leave the force without a blemish; to stay in your own division; to be transferred into a different one or to go and work under a different boss. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. That’s why people don’t care much for the money at the moment. Everybody has to get his own future in order. If they want to find themselves in the right place and get a better rank, they try not to get involved in any suspicious affairs. Especially since if you get caught, your management will get hassled too, and for that you’ll get a right rollocking.

They only suspended external bribing. You can still become a rank-and-file policeman by paying 5,000-10,000 rubles, no matter what your reputation. “Re-establishing” yourself as a manager would cost around $10,000-20,000.

I can live on my salary for another six months. And the people who take bribes will  survive the ‘cleansing’, no matter what incriminating evidence Head Office might hold on them. Everything can be bought or sold, you see. They only suspended all external bribing, by the way: corruption exists inside the organisation too, and that’s fair game. I’ve heard that any one can become a rank-and-file policeman if he pays 5,000-10,000 rubles [£110-220], no matter what his reputation. “Re-establishing” yourself as a manager would cost around $10,000-20,000 [£6,250-12,500], depending on the rank. I think it’s quite affordable. Not least because you’ll eventually recoup your outlay. In recent years the costs of a bribes in the MVD varied from $50,000 [£31,200]  to a few million. I don’t think that this bar is about to get any lower. There will always be a market for bribe-taking so long as there are those who are willing to offer.

Militia training

Special forces units of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops conducting an anti-terror training exercise.

I think it’s rather silly to hope the review will single out bribe-takers. My experience would say it is the other way around: it’s a convenient and legal way to get rid of the honest guys who prevent the rest from taking bribes".

Nikolai, patrol officer

“The bosses told us that if we continued to take bribes and arrange krysha [protection] for whores, we’d be thrown out. But I don’t care. We are seriously understaffed, so I don’t worry about my future. Let them fire me! I’d like to hear them explain how to live on a salary of 20,000 rubles [£440] a month. And not take money from the whores who are driving Jeeps and other fancy foreign cars, no doubt bought on the money grandma left them (yeah right!)

They keep promising salary increases, but I find that hard to believe. I need to live right now. I have to support my family: house them, buy clothes, feed them. So I really can’t be bothered with this bribe suspension.

Of course, they keep telling us that the police will have their salaries doubled to almost 40,000 rubles [£840], but I find that hard to believe. And when are they saying this will actually happen? I need to live right now. Just like the majority of my colleagues, I’m not local: I have to support my family: house them, buy clothes, feed them. So I really can’t be bothered with this bribe suspension.

There should be four of us in a team by the way, and we should get time off. As it is, we work  like bulls in teams of two or three with no free days. Do you really think they pay us extra for that? Do you seriously believe that we take money from teachers and women with kids? No, we collect money from illegal businesses: florists, traders, prostitutes, migrants. Trust me,  they won’t die from it".

 

Thanks to Bolshoy gorod, where this story originally appeared.

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