Police Voice Support for Illegal Methods

More than half of the nation's police officers say it is sometimes acceptable to use force against detained suspects, while nearly two in 10 believe it is sometimes acceptable to plant drugs or weapons on suspects, a report from the independent Levada Center showed.

"The erosion of legal awareness among police officers is at its highest level," said Lev Gudkov, a center researcher. "The notion of what's lawful and what isn't is warped."

The center polled 641 policemen in 41 cities in December 2005 as part of a two-year project with Public Verdict, a group that monitors police abuse.

On Tuesday, the two groups presented their findings in a newly released book, "Index of Abuse by Law Enforcement Agencies."

Police officers also tend to believe the media is responsible for sowing public discontent: Fifty-five percent say the media is the No. 1 reason for their poor image.

A spokesman at the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, declined to comment until he had seen the book.

The Levada Center report also showed that, over the two-year period, hostility toward the police was consistently high. Monthly updates showed that, at some points, as many as two-thirds of all Russians distrusted the police; at other points, that figure jumped to three-fourths.

While the level of trust in all authorities -- the army, the courts, the security services and the police -- rose briefly after President Vladimir Putin took power in early 2000, that trust ebbed as hopes for internal reforms sank.

About 1.2 percent of the population views a job in the police force as "prestigious," while 2.5 percent considers it "attractive," said Olga Gryaznova, a Levada Center researcher. Such public sentiment contributes to police officers' negative image of the police and hinders improvement of relations between the police and the public, Gryaznova added.

Topping most Russians' list of fears when it comes to the police is public humiliation, followed by violence, illegal detention, blackmail and illegal incrimination, among other concerns, the study showed.

A police colonel with more than 30 years of experience, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were fewer professionals working in the police force than there were in the 1980s.

The police colonel added that the Interior Ministry's reform of the police force had not included educating street cops who interact directly with the general public.