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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Traffic Police Need More Than Image Help

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Anniversaries, not to mention 70th anniversaries, are not usually the time to talk about problems. But Monday's honorees themselves would have been surprised if all they received were congratulations. So the traffic cops rolled up their sleeves and worked on improving their public image.

In Moscow, traffic inspectors were handing out cards with information about new traffic signs to drivers they stopped. In the Tyumen region they were giving drivers who hadn't broken any rules bumper stickers bearing the slogan "My National Automotive Inspectorate -- 70 years." Natalya Golovnaya, a contestant in the Irkutsk region Miss Traffic Cop beauty pageant, explained what the point of the whole competition was: "Not only can we drive and collect fines on the roads, we can also dance and look good," Golovnaya said. "We are creating a better image.

Indeed, what better than dancing to improve the image of the traffic police? According to one recent study conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, 71 percent of regular drivers said they had been stopped by the cops. Of these, 25 percent said they were satisfied with the experience, while 42 percent said it had been unsatisfactory. The main negative factors cited were rudeness, quibbling and attempts to extort bribes . It's not hard to believe. According to a recent survey by the Levada Center, many Russians consider cops of all kinds to be the biggest criminals in the country -- and that's ahead of criminals themselves! Thirty-eight percent of respondents in the criminal survey fingered the cops. Criminals garnered a mere 14 percent.

But the most important indicator of how the traffic police work is that 35,000 people die in accidents on Russia's roads every year. This alone should be enough to generate fundamental reforms.

There are positive examples nearby. In the Baltic states, Belarus and Georgia, the number of traffic officers was reduced by two-thirds, allowing the remaining cops to be paid a reasonable salary. The Soviet-era stationary traffic posts in those countries have been replaced by powerful cars with computer systems providing access to law enforcement databases.

Then there is Kazakhstan, where they have kept the stationary posts but the cops are required to produce both radar and video evidence to prove a law has been broken.

After cops' salaries have been raised to a reasonable level, their pay should depend to a certain degree on the safety record on the roads they are assigned to patrol, and any attempt to supplement that pay by taking bribes should mean dismissal.

This comment was published as an editorial in Vedomosti.