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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Told to Ease Up on Checks

Moscow's police chief has forbidden hundreds of officers from stopping people to check documents except for when a law has been broken, Interfax reported Wednesday.

The frequent checks are a source of irritation to Russians and foreigners, who often end up paying officers bribes to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.

Police chief Vladimir Pronin said at a City Duma meeting Wednesday that he has ordered patrol officers, traffic police officers and police guards not to ask to see documents unless a person has committed a crime or a minor infraction of the law, such as a driving violation.

Neighborhood police, the environmental police and officers in the police's passport and visa department will be allowed to carry out the checks, Interfax reported.

Officers are required to identify themselves and which police department they represent on request.

Pronin said people whose documents are checked in breach of his order should call the police by dialing 02, and that officers who disobey the order will be disciplined.

A Moscow police spokesman had no comment Wednesday, saying he had not seen the order.

The police have fielded numerous complaints about indiscriminate document checks, an unidentified police official told the Gazeta newspaper last month.

Gazeta said that although the law already lays out restrictions on checks, it has been all but disregarded since the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings.

"We drew a lot of attention to the problem in the past, but the police were silent," Lev Levinson, a State Duma aide and human rights activist, said Wednesday. "Things won't change overnight, but the very fact that the police have recognized there is a problem and have spoken out about it is very important."

The Forum of Migrants' Organizations said Wednesday that Pronin's order appeared to only shore up the existing law. The human rights group said the law permits the police to stop people who are on a wanted list, who commit a crime in front of the police or act suspiciously.

A U.S. Embassy official familiar with the issue said Wednesday there have been many complaints about U.S. citizens being stopped by the police for document checks and forced to pay bribes for ostensible offenses.

"The fact that Moscow law enforcement authorities recognize and acknowledge this is a problem is extremely positive. However, we will have to wait and see what sort of tangible results the new policy brings," the official said.