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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Victims of Dirty Cops Finding a Voice

UnknownA traffic policeman checking a driver's papers. Roadside bribe-taking is more than a matter for internal affairs, Romodanovsky said.
Bribe-taking, illegal use of force and harassment are running rampant within the police a year after Boris Gryzlov was named the country's top cop with the assignment of rooting out corruption.

But one thing has changed -- victims are complaining.

That's good news, the police and experts say, because it is a significant step in the start of what will be a drawn-out chore cleaning house at the Interior Ministry.

"A year ago, before Gryzlov was appointed to the ministry by President Vladimir Putin, citizens seldom complained about policemen breaking the law, and even when they did they usually were very vague," said the police's chief of internal affairs, Major General Konstantin Romodanovsky.


Gryzlov dissolved the graft-ridden RUBOP.
"Today, citizens are giving specific details in their complaints and stressing that they are ready to give evidence against policemen during investigations," he said in an interview at his Directorate of Internal Security office. "I believe it demonstrates that people have began to change their attitude toward the police and they are beginning to trust us."

The directorate, which was set up in 1995 to fight police corruption, received 20,585 complaints in 2001, compared to about 13,000 the previous year.

The number of complaints filed in the first three months of 2002 is 160 percent higher than the same period last year.

About 6,500 police officers were reprimanded, fined or jailed on corruption charges in 2001. Almost 671 of them were sentenced to prison.

In Moscow, the directorate fields complaints from individuals and companies, Russian and foreign alike, through its hotline at 239-0730.

Romodanovsky said that in the past 11 months, 20 percent of the heads of regional and city police departments have been forced to resign over allegations of corruption and abuse of office, including the head of the Moscow regional police, Yury Yukhman, and the deputy head of the Moscow city police, Vasily Kuptsov.

Evidence against the suspects has been passed over to the Prosecutor General's Office, which has to decide whether to bring charges, he said.

Gryzlov faced a daunting task when he was appointed interior minister on March 28, 2001. The ministry's image, already damaged by the prevalence of bribe-hungry traffic police, was further tarnished by a number of corruption scandals in the years that Gryzlov's predecessor, Vladimir Rushailo, was in office.

One of the most heavily criticized people in Rushailo's entourage was Alexander Orlov, who oversaw the RUBOP, an agency set up to fight organized crime.

But RUBOP effectively turned into a rent-a-cop force available to the highest bidder, and its officers were regularly hired to take sides in business disputes.

Mike Solovyanov / MT

Romodanovsky, chief of internal affairs, is pleased more victims are complaining.

Gryzlov disbanded RUBOP shortly after his appointment, and Orlov has gone into hiding abroad.

"We are currently helping the Prosecutor General's Office collect evidence and gather information about Orlov," Romodanovsky said.

The work of the internal directorate, which answers directly to Gryzlov, is overseen by the Prosecutor General's Office.

Gryzlov picked Romodanovsky from the Federal Security Service to head the directorate last year.

The effectiveness of the directorate's crackdown is unclear at the street level.

Asked about the directorate, several randomly interviewed policemen said they knew of its existence but refused to elaborate about their attitude toward it.

Viktor, a Moscow city official, and a number of other city residents said that they personally had not witnessed any significant changes over the past year.

"During the day I can wave away the traffic police with my City Hall ID, but in the evening, when they begin collecting money at the end of their shifts, I never risk using my position to try to get out of paying," Viktor said on condition that his last name not be used. "I am ready to pay to avoid any complications with them."

Ali, an Azeri trader at an outdoor market, said he often has to pay off the police to prevent them from detaining his relatives who lack Moscow registration permits.

"Policemen come everyday to check our papers for any sign of a violation," he said. "All of us at the market were so tired of it that we agreed to pay them regularly via the market's guards."

A fellow trader selling videocassettes and CDs said the police harass not only people from the Caucasus region but anyone they can get their hands on.

"It is enough to just have some cash in your hands to attract their attention," he said.

"They come and tell me that I am selling pornography and even though I don't sell porn, only some tapes of licensed erotica, I pay immediately to avoid any further problems with them."

The internal directorate's plain-clothed detectives raided 20 Moscow markets in February and found 12 policemen extorting bribes, Romodanovsky said.

He said citizens themselves are just as much at fault as the ministry for keeping bribe-taking alive.

"We all try to save time and nerves by giving bribes to policemen," he said. "But please understand that it is not the job of the police to teach a citizen how to be a person."

Anvar Amirov, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank, agreed, saying the internal crackdown can only go so far.

"Fighting corruption from within is necessary but not sufficient to overcome the problem," Amirov said. "Society itself must change. Citizens must stop thinking of themselves as hired laborers and become independent businessmen, striving for minimal contact with the state.

"Only after doing that will they start thinking, 'Why should I give up what belongs to me?'"

The increasing number of complaints from victims is a good step in that direction, he said.