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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Traffic Police to Receive Image Overhaul

They changed their name. They spruced up their uniforms. They even plastered roadside billboards with pictures of smiling inspectors who care about you.

But everyone still hates them.

Now, Russia's traffic police - the infamous GAI, recently renamed Gosudarstvennaya Inspektsiya Bezopasnosti Dorozhnogo Dvizheniya, or the State Road-Traffic Safety Inspectorate - have called in the experts for help with their chronic popularity problem.

GIBDD, whose new name has done little to improve their reputation as the most corrupt and bribe-friendly institution in Russia, have struck a long-term exclusive deal with a local public relations agency, Publicity PR.

"We asked them to help," said Alexander Peshkov, who heads GIBDD's internal information department. "We run some social PR campaigns of our own. But we hope the professional touch will help us improve our image and inter-corporate communication."

Publicity PR, which plans to kick off its makeover project with a safety campaign in mid-December - aiming "to improve traffic culture and awareness of laws among traffic participants" - has its work cut out for it.

It's still a mystery how exactly the campaign will mold dirt-splashing, sidewalk-hogging motorists and handout-soliciting traffic inspectors into exemplary members of Russian driving culture.

Peshkov, whose own propaganda team comprises a thousand people nationwide, mentioned pedestrian-awareness days, attention to the elderly campaigns and anti-alcohol promotions as possible ways to go.

"I can't explain exactly what they'll do," he said. "They are the ideologists."

No less of a mystery is how the cash-strapped GIBDD are planning to pay for their image overhaul. Yelena Suzdaltseva, a Publicity PR spokeswoman, grudgingly confirmed that the potential cost of the publicity work could reach into the millions of dollars.

But Peshkov assured that the tab was not for motorists - or his agency - to pick up.

"This is not your worry. We signed an agreement under which they take on some responsibility and we pay nothing," Peshkov said. "Well, they're not doing it for free. Cheese comes free only in mousetraps. But we found a consensus."

Peshkov refused to divulge the details and didn't want to say whether the deal was a result of a tender. According to Publicity PR, the exclusive agreement is open-ended - a potentially profitable deal, considering Peshkov's remark that GIBDD's image problems could last "until our retirement days."

Suzdaltseva explained that her agency will find "sponsors" who will pay for bolstering the traffic police's good name. "It will be called information support," she said. "On a barter basis, it will allow us to provide advertising in a mutually beneficial way."

She declined to explain what sort of services the traffic police might be expected to provide their "sponsors," but some schemes for making companies pay GIBDD's PR bill are already in place.

The PR Technologies public relations agency is currently running a campaign explaining the process of exchanging driver's licenses. Russians have until Jan. 1, 2000 to exchange their old Soviet licenses for the new, Russian, ones, although the date is likely to be extended. New licenses come in two types: a simple 30-ruble paper insert and a plastic card that costs five times as much.

Maria Buras, a PR Technologies vice president, said it was not the traffic police who were footing the bill for that campaign. She declined, however, to divulge the identity of the client and whether the client had a vested interest in promoting the more expensive plastic cards.

"Our client is interested in clarifying this dubious situation [with the driver's license exchange]," she said. "And our client prefers to keep it confidential."

As a part of their campaign, Buras said, PR Technologies was taping an interview with the GIBDD chief and distributing it to regional television channels to be used in newscasts. But she adamantly denied that they would pay to see the interview placed. "This would be unethical," she said.

Among Moscow drivers, news of the upcoming PR campaign evoked smirks and stories about the most memorable bribes they paid to traffic inspectors, who officially earn as little as $180 a month.

"We simply help them make a living," said 32-year-old Stanislav, who declined to give his last name. He recalled how his Volkswagen was stopped on an empty highway just as he was driving home to watch a crucial World Cup soccer match between Argentina and England. "They knew that everyone would be rushing home, and they came out on the hunt."

The inspectors threatened to take away Stanislav's license and return it only after he had paid 300 rubles ($50 at the time) to a bank. But he got off cheaply, he said, paying only 100 rubles, after the inspectors shifted their attention to an approaching Audi.

"Seventy percent of the time they're right when they stop you," he said in the traffic police's defense. "It's only in 30 percent of cases that they're simply out on the prowl for bribes."

Still, would paying higher salaries do more to improve the performance and image of the GIBDD than a pricey PR campaign?

Peshkov said he was not aware of any upcoming salary increases for the traffic police.