When Padding Police Statistics Proves Deadly

Of all the horrifying revelations during the trial of serial killer Alexander Pichushkin, perhaps none was more disturbing than the ordeal of Maria Viricheva, one of three people known to have survived attacks by Pichushkin.

It emerged in court that a Moscow police officer had forced Viricheva to sign a statement following the 2002 attack saying she had not been assaulted, even though her boyfriend was an acquaintance of Pichushkin's and could have led police straight to the killer.

Pichushkin, known as the Bittsevsky Maniac, went on to kill dozens before his arrest in 2006 and was sentenced to life in prison a year ago Wednesday for 48 murders.

City Prosecutor Yury Syomin subsequently opened a criminal case against the police officer, Konstantin Kalashnikov, for abuse of his position.

Kalashnikov remains at large, and his wife said he had moved to Ukraine.

"The things they said on television weren't true," Alya Kalashnikova said in a recent telephone interview. "Of course he registered the crime properly. What, you think a person who worked as a policeman for 30 years would do something so stupid?"

The Investigative Committee said in a faxed statement Tuesday that the case against Kalashnikov, who worked at the Zyuzino district precinct in southwestern Moscow, had been suspended because his whereabouts were unknown.

It is unclear why, as prosecutors allege, Kalashnikov chose to ignore Viricheva's story. But the accusations against him highlight a pervasive police practice in which officers pad their case log with easily solved crimes while refusing to register cases of mugging and assault, which are more difficult to crack.

The practice, known in police jargon as "chopping sticks," is aimed at improving the percentage of registered crimes solved by an officer in order to earn a bonus or promotion.

"There are criteria -- such as how many crimes a policeman solves a year -- that show whether a policeman is a good worker or not a good worker," said Yevgeny Vyshenkov, a former St. Petersburg police detective and deputy head of the Agency of Journalistic Investigations.

"If a policeman solves a high percentage of crimes, he will advance," Vyshenkov said. "If a policeman understands right away that he won't be able to solve a crime, he won't register it. ... It's a lot easier to raid a place where you are absolutely sure three drug addicts have three grams of heroin than to solve the theft of a car or mobile phone."

Problems in registering crimes have not gone unnoticed by top officials in the Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has even lashed out at police for rampant corruption and falsification when registering crimes.

During a tour of regional police stations in October 2005, Nurgaliyev used words like "catastrophic" and "rife with violations" to describe police work in tracking and registering crimes.

The problem of police officers boosting rates of solved crimes by manipulating statistics is prevalent nationwide, Nurgaliyev said at the time. "Data on solved crimes are falsified everywhere," he said, Izvestia reported.

It is unclear what, if any, formal steps the Interior Ministry has taken to stem such cases of corruption. The ministry's press office said it could not provide a comment by telephone and did not reply to a written inquiry faxed Oct. 13.

But it is clear that the practice of chopping sticks persists.

In a case worthy of a Nikolai Gogol story, the Novgorod regional branch of the Investigative Committee in March opened a criminal case against a policeman for booking a woman on charges of public drunkenness "with the goal of improving his work statistics," according to an official statement. In fact, the woman, Irina Yevgrashova, had died at the age of 45 on Oct. 11, 2007, two days before she was charged, investigators said.

Anatoly Kucherena, head of the Public Chamber's committee on law enforcement oversight and judicial reform, conceded that the practice of rewarding police officers for their percentage of solved crimes is problematic.

"These are precisely the issues that the Public Chamber committee is trying to bring up," Kucherena said. "We want to show that these problems do in fact exist."

He said, however, that the issue of personnel and recruitment is just as crucial.

"We have said many times that we have to be careful who works [in the police]," Kucherena said. "They must be honest and serve people honestly."

Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the State Duma's Security Committee, said the problem lies not with the system for registering crimes but rather with incompetent and corrupt officers.

"This is a discipline problem," Gudkov said. "That problem exists everywhere. The quality of the personnel needs to be improved."

Kalashnikov, the police officer accused of corruption in connection with the Pichushkin case, could face up to four years in prison if apprehended, charged and convicted of not registering the crime reported by the killer's intended victim.

The Investigative Committee branch in Moscow's Chertanovsky district is handling the investigation into the officer and taking "all possible measures" to establish his whereabouts, the Investigative Committee said in Tuesday's statement.

His car is being sought, and his telephone conversations with friends and family are being traced, the statement said.

"In such cases, one is not able to hide from law enforcement for very long," Sergei Yarosh, head of the investigations department of the Chertanovsky branch, said in the statement.

Pichushkin, 34, boasted in his trial last year that he committed 63 murders in an attempt to kill one person for each square on a chessboard, though prosecutors only found evidence of 48 killings.

"Kalashnikov allowed me to roam the earth for even longer," Pichushkin told the courtroom during the trial, media reports said.

Staff Writer Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this report.