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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police School Opens Doors to New Recruits

MTYoung students at Moscow Police College No. 1 heading for a class on a recent afternoon. The school is one of two in the city that offers a four-year training program.
They are known for corruption and extortion, for harassing law-abiding citizens while turning a blind eye on criminals. Yet despite the dubious reputation of Russian police officers and the miserable salary that goes along with the job, police work still attracts many young people.

Among those who turned up for a recent open house at Moscow Police College No. 1, some said they would like to fulfill the noble goal of regaining the public trust. Others displayed something less than an ideological calling, saying they hoped to make a fortune by taking advantage of their powers. And at least one person said that finding a spouse was the main motivation.

The college, on Ulitsa Fabritsiusa in northern Moscow, is one of two in the city offering a four-year training program for police cadets. The school has just started registering applicants ahead of entrance exams in June.

College officials escorted applicants through recently renovated classrooms, looking pleased with the size of the noisy crowd of teenagers. Administrators expected twice the number of applicants than they will ultimately be able to accept.

This strong interest comes despite souring public opinion. The battered image of the police made headlines last month when President Vladimir Putin himself shined the light on misconduct. Speaking at a meeting of senior police officials, Putin urged them to restore the public confidence in police.

The number of crimes committed by police officers has been soaring. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov informed the same meeting of officials that investigators from his office found that more than 21,000 police officers had committed various violations; 17,000 of those officers were subsequently fired. Illegal activities included extortion, registering stolen cars, drugs and arms dealing, kidnapping and selling fake passports.

In one glaring example of police corruption, last fall investigators uncovered a scam involving imported luxury cars, which netted a cabal of gangsters and police officers several million dollars in false fees.

However, at Police College No. 1, many members of the buzzing crowd said they were not bothered by the sorry state of affairs.

Masha Yablonskaya, 15, came to the college with two of her friends to learn about the training for the job of an investigator. "The job is not about money, but it is exciting," she said. However, Yablonskaya added that she will apply for the program only if she fails to get into theater school.

She later found out that getting the job of an investigator requires several years of study in an advanced police academy. She said she was still interested in becoming a Moscow cop, despite an average monthly salary of only 6,000 rubles ($190). Yablonskaya was particularly interested in the traffic police office, where auto paperwork is issued -- and often for an under-the-table fee.

"Selling license plates is not bad at all," Yablonskaya said, adding that her father and brother are traffic police officers. "But I think that I would make a less corrupt police officer myself."

Her friend, Irina Bizyayeva, also 15, said she was hoping to gain martial arts and firearm experience at the police college. But she could not keep her focus for long. "There are so many boys here," she said, rolling her eyes at a group of uniformed first-year students.

One 14-year-old applicant, Mikhail, who would not give his last name, said he wants to work on a traffic patrol team, mainly because the job would give him a chance to get behind the wheel. "Patrolling the city in a nice car is cool," he said. "Besides, I'm tired of my school anyway."

Vladimir Filonov / MT

Police Major Nail Eksanov and his son, Ilyas, 15, attending the school's open house.

If Mikhail makes it, he will join a corps of officers who are known more for causing trouble than preventing it. According to a study conducted by the INDEM think tank last fall, seven out of every 10 civilian encounters with the traffic police result in a demand for a bribe.

College officials acknowledged that many applicants see the job of a police officer as a road to easy side money. But they maintained that there was nothing to be done about it.

"We do acknowledge having problems and struggle to root them out," said the college's deputy head, Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Titanov. "But corruption is not the problem of the police only. It is the disease of the entire society. The majority of our applicants and students are not like that. I hope."

With 14-year-old son Dmitry in tow, Irina Yudina was one of several parents who brought a child to the academy in order to follow the family line. She doesn't buy into the fashionable logic that smears all cops with the same brush. Her husband has been a policeman for 18 years. "I have always been happy with his job," said Yudina. "Even though sometimes we have been through hard times financially."

Others at the college also stood by the police force and a hope for a regained respect. Standing by his son Ilyas, 15, police Major Nail Eksanov said that he sees better days ahead. "The prestige of the police has dropped so low that things are bound to start changing for the better," Eksanov said. "They cannot become worse than they are now."