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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Petersburg Police Told to Brush Up on English

MTSt. Petersburg's police have been ordered to study English phrase books so they can cope with foreigners arriving for the jubilee.
ST. PETERSBURG -- "It is late, please be quiet." "Sorry, there is no access at this point." "Did your belongings disappear while you were asleep or while you were absent?"

Many St. Petersburg residents may have heard at least one of these phrases from members of the city's police force. But now, as a result of a Russian-English phrase book being distributed to the police by the Interior Ministry, visitors to the norther capital during the 300th anniversary celebrations might hear them in English for a change.

The city's police, however, are not renowned for their fluency in foreign languages, and foreigners in St. Petersburg often complain of communication problems with the police.

"Phrase books have been handed out to the personnel in our department and should be distributed throughout the whole Interior Ministry administration by May 16," Olga Barashkina, the spokeswoman for the northwest region's transport administration, said in an interview last week.

"At the briefing where the phrase books were distributed, we were told that we were required to study them," Barashkina said. "We're supposed ... at least to know on which page we can find the sentence we need."

The northwest region transport administration and the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate were the first to receive the booklets, which are in a pocketbook format and are about 60 pages long. The books come in different versions, as each contains vocabulary specific to various departments of the Interior Ministry.

The phrase books distributed to the transport administration, for example, contain sentences explaining how to get to the Admiralty and other tourist attractions from train stations and vocabulary concerning cases of theft.

Along with the examples listed above, the phrase book contains sentences such as: "Was the door of the compartment closed or bolted?" and shorter instructions such as "Stop it" or "Give way, please."

The phrases in the books are printed both in English and in a phonetic transcription in Russian.

"If the police officer is unable to understand what a foreigner is saying, he can ask the foreigner to point at the sentence in English in the book," Barashkina said.

Barashkina admitted the phrase books are "a little naive," but said they are necessary. "Our staff has a basic knowledge of English, but the phrase books deals with specific vocabulary and nuances," she said.

Not everyone working for the Interior Ministry is as convinced the books are the best solution.

Police officer Sergei Bazarov works exclusively with foreigners, primarily answering calls on a hotline set up for visitors who fall victim to crime. He said the ministry picked the wrong targets.

"It would be better to distribute the booklets to the tourists, so that they could point out the sentences to people in Russian," Bazarov said in a telephone interview last week. "They're not expensive. They only cost 10 rubles each."

Whether the phrase books are effective or not, Bazarov said, something had to be done in a situation where the police are generally unable to communicate with most foreigners.

"St. Petersburg police officers' knowledge of foreign languages is very poor," he said. "Most know a few words in English from school, but that's it."

Bazarov said he is often the only officer working on the hotline who speaks English -- or any foreign language at all. He added, however, that although there isn't always a foreign-language speaker on duty, callers who are able to leave their addresses in Russian are visited by a police officer with an interpreter.

This is not the first time phrase books have been distributed to the city's law enforcement officers. They were first used when St. Petersburg hosted the Goodwill Games in 1994. The Interior Ministry said it is now distributing an improved version of that booklet.

While the total number of visitors to the northern capital last year was 3 million, Interior Ministry forecasts put the number of tourists, foreign officials and staff to visit St. Petersburg for the anniversary celebrations at 2 million for May and June alone.

To better handle the influx of foreigners, Pavel Rayevsky, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, said police officers with a knowledge of foreign languages will be on duty during the 300th anniversary celebrations.

"We will station police officers who speak foreign languages out on the streets," Rayevsky said last week. "They will be joined by over 100 students from the Interior Ministry University in St. Petersburg who have a good knowledge of foreign languages."

Rayevsky, however, was unable to say just how many officers able to speak a second language would be available.

"I can't give an exact figure," he said. "But there are more than just a few."