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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Should Chase Killers, Not Quotas

Residents of Moscow can breathe a sigh of relief now that Alexander Pichushkin, convicted of 48 murders in the Moscow City Court this week, is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But we would all feel safer if Pichushkin's five-week trial had not revealed the glaring incompetence of some Moscow police officers. Tragically, police missed at least two chances to catch Pichushkin, the so-called Bittsevsky Maniac, at the height of his rampage.

In March 2002, Pichushkin attempted to kill a homeless boy, Mikhail Lobov, by throwing him down a well. The teenager managed to survive and tell a policeman, who ignored his story, according to Lobov's testimony at the trial.

Then, in February 2003, Maria Viricheva survived a similar murder attempt by swimming through sewage and climbing up a pipe. The pregnant 19-year-old, a native of Tatarstan who had a job selling stationery near the Kakhovskaya metro station, got to the hospital with the help of some Good Samaritans. There she told her harrowing story to a policeman, who apparently forced her to sign a statement saying she had fallen down the well herself.

Prosecutors have now opened a criminal investigation into the actions of the officer, who has been identified only by his last name, Kalashnikov.

After his brush with Viricheva, Pichushkin went on to kill dozens of people until he was finally caught last year.

The what-ifs of the case are mind-boggling.

It is not clear why Kalashnikov may have chosen to ignore Viricheva's story. Perhaps he did not believe her.

But he may have been motivated by a perverse set of incentives where cops can lose a bonus or be denied promotion unless they solve a fixed percentage of the crimes registered in their precincts. The system gives police a disincentive to register crimes like muggings and assaults, which are difficult to solve.

It also leads to a practice called "chopping sticks," where police pad their arrest statistics in various ways. One technique is to round up migrant workers, who are ubiquitous in Moscow and easy to catch, and charge them with carrying false documents. Even the nation's top cop, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, has criticized the manipulation of crime-solving statistics.

Police officers should be rewarded for catching dangerous criminals like Pichushkin -- not for filling artificial quotas set by their bosses.