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NEWS > 18 February 2006

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 Article sourced from

The Age - Melbourne,Victoria,
18 February 2006
This article appeared in the above title/site.
To view it in its entirity click this link.


Russian police embrace crime a

TWO out of three Russian policemen think that torturing suspects is acceptable, while more than a quarter admit to extorting bribes. Even so, most of Russia's police cannot understand why they are unpopular, a new opinion poll has found.

The study will not surprise most Russians, who regard much of the force as corrupt, thuggish and out of control.

Indeed 45 per cent of police, according to the pollsters, see their main priority as protecting the rich and powerful rather than the public - or perhaps to protect them from the public. Just under 60 per cent admitted to supplementing their incomes by working as private bodyguards.

Of the 634 officers polled in 41 cities by the respected Levada Centre, 18 per cent said they had been paid to extract money on behalf of debt collectors - a process that often entails use of force.

"The police force has essentially been privatised," said Lev Gudkov, the poll's compiler. "It has disintegrated into a collection of groups serving the interests of particular clans of influence."

While only 25 per cent of those polled admitted taking bribes, 83 per cent said the practice happened either regularly or at least from time to time.

The Russian approach on seeing a policeman is to avoid eye contact and, if possible, cross the road. Foreigners quickly learn that Russia is not a place to ask policemen for directions, with many also finding their pockets considerably lighter after the discovery of a minor infraction with their documents.

Even if an officer can find no evidence of an offence, there are ways of making money. Eighteen per cent of those polled said it was acceptable to plant drugs or weapons on suspects.

The Interior Ministry dismissed the poll.

"The poll was conducted in only 41 cities so I don't think it can be regarded as representative," said a spokeswoman. "Great strides have been made by the police to achieve greater openness."

Mr Gudkov said the poll showed that reform in the force was long overdue.

"The existing force was created as a mechanism of repression in Soviet times," he said. "Its main function was to control the population and it has survived as such."

One way to start, say human rights activists, would be to raise police salaries. According to Moscow's police chief, Vladimir Pronin, the average officer earns a salary of between $A250 and $A500 a month. Studies suggest, however, that Russia's traffic police collectively take home an additional $A1600 million a year in bribes.

The Daily Telegraph sought the opinion of three policemen in central Moscow. All three refused to comment, though one demanded a bribe and another threatened violence. "If you don't go away I will beat you," he said.

 

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