Striding or Staggering? Kolokoltsev’s five steps towards police reform

Kolokoltsev: on hold or getting through?

Amidst the twin storms of Hurricane Sandy and midterm grading, I’m indebted to Kevin Rothrock of Global Voices for bringing to my attention a fascinating and important article by Sergei Kanev in Novaya Gazeta that I might well otherwise have missed, on police reform, silovik politics and other subjects close to my heart. The article, ‘Kolokoltsev’s Five Steps’ (Пять шагов Колокольцева), notes that Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev recently admitted that police reform had had limited success to date and in effect launched a renewed effort.

After all, while reform has led to a shrinkage in the force of some 200,000 officers, it is harder to see that this — and the much-vaunted change of name from militia to police — has had direct and positive effects on its efficiency and probity. To an extent, I feel sorry for Kolokoltsev, in that any change will be slow, even generational. No such reform program could have a quick impact, however much policy-makers and public alike might hope for them. Indeed, he deserves some credit for being willing to recognize that reform so far has been more a declaratory than practical act.

The article presents a nice snapshot of how Kolokoltsev — advised by his consigliere, outspoken ex-cop and academic Vladimir Ovchinskii — hopes to make reform work, his five-step plan:

  1. Further demilitarization of the police. This ranges from the cosmetic (making uniforms less like soldiers’) through to changing training and police procedure, doing away with army-style drill.
  2. Making contracts for good officers open-ended and flattening the pay structure. In addition, pay bonuses (currently a great motivator for report padding and forcing the innocent to confess) should be phased out, or replaced with essentially honorific awards such as certificates of merit.
  3. Doing away with the infamous palochka (‘stick’) quota system which again encourages officers to falsify reports and fabricate convictions in the pursuit of promotions and bonuses. Even Russian cops have begun complaining publicly about this system.
  4. At present, the police can refuse to open a criminal case and the public has very little recourse — or even right to know why. This is a perfect smokescreen for cops to take bribes to ensure a case remains closed or simply for them to keep a case which looks difficult or politically-sensitive from messing up their metrics. Kolokoltsev intends to do away with the current scheme and make the whole process much more transparent.
  5. Set up a website detailing — with photos — cops and MVD staff sacked for inappropriate conduct, and also banning them from being employed in other state agencies for life

These are all good, useful measures (even though the last smacks a little of gimmickry — I’ve never been a fan of “name and shame” as a policy). The fight against corruption is an implicit sixth element, but it could have done with being explicit, and in many ways will prove the most crucial in that without that, none of the others will have their desired effect.

Beyond that, there are 3 key issues I think worth noting:

1. The debilitating effects of reform, especially in the short term. In classic style, those with pull managed to avoid the purge, and one effect has been a shortage of street-level patrol officers and precinct inspectors. According to Kolokoltsev, 40% of rural settlements have no police in their districts. I have also heard tales of disarray within the police training apparatus, as some instructors find themselves unsure how to adapt to the new line espoused in the Law on Police. Generally, change will dismay some and confuse many, and transitions are rarely periods of efficiency. In the short term, things will seem worse before they get better.

2. The politics of the MVD. As Kanev rightly notes, any reform project can become a battlefield between ‘clans’ within the MVD itself. Kolokoltsev has far, far more authority than his predecessor, Nurgaliev, but that’s not exactly saying much. He will need to demonstrate both strength and political skill to carry his reform through. Many are doing very well from the status quo — especially the corrupt and the cynical who, alas, did well under Nurgaliev. At best, they will try to protect themselves, at worst they will seek actively to undermine Kolokoltsev and sabotage his reforms, if they begin to feel under threat.

After all, Kolokoltsev has already faced challenges from within the police. Fortunately for him, Nurgaliev had already dealt with rival contender for the ministerial position Mikhail Sukhodolsky (and in gratuitously brutal fashion, at that), but there are still those whispering that he would make a better minister. More to the point, attempts were made around the time of his elevation to smear and discredit him, largely through his son.

3. The politics of the Siloviki. Kolokoltsev will not only have to negotiate MVD politics but also those of the wider security elite. In part, this is for institutional reasons — as Kanev notes, the MVD is now overseen not just by the FSB (who snoop on everyone) but also formally by the Investigations Committee, which is also taking away the lion’s share of the MVD’s investigators. Bastrykin is a complex character who understands many of the philosophical reasons for a law-based state, but at present he seems consumed by the struggle against the opposition and it remains to be seen how he responds to police reform.

Indeed, even within the FSB, three separate and often-feuding elements watch and work with the MVD: Directorate M (specifically tasked with watching the law-enforcement agencies), the Interior Security Directorate (USB) and Directorate K (economic security). These have their own agents, allies and interests within the MVD and thus in my experience as often seem to combine with forces within the MVD to foil the plans of their FSB comrades as exert any meaningful oversight.

More generally, Kanev identifies the main blocs being one dominated by Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Sergei Naryshkin (and which also includes Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Gerasimov and Yuri Draguntsov, head of the MVD’s internal affairs directorate); another under head of the Presidential Control Directorate Konstantin Chuichenko and former Deputy Interior Minister (and now Medvedev advisor) Sergei Bulavin; and a third under Head of the Presidential Administration for Public Service and Human Resources Sergei Dubik. These might not be quite the same blocs I see, but the point on which I agree entirely with Kanev is that the wider power struggles within the siloviki — which are arguably resurgent — intersect with MVD politics and have a direct bearing on the progress of police reform.

Overall, it is hard to give a clear prediction as to whether this reform will succeed, but it is encouraging both that Kolokoltsev is willing to listen to the right people and say the right things and that there is informed and informative debate in the press. That is still a long way from success — but these are all necessary early steps.

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  1. From the original article:

    2) При поступлении в МВД с отдельно взятым полицейским будет заключаться контракт на 8 лет. В дальнейшем, если он честно и эффективно работал, контракт — бессрочный. При этом у рядового полицейского и его начальника зарплата будет примерно одинаковая — 120 тыс. рублей.

    120,000 rubles??? = $4,000. That’s 5x the average salary. IIRC, it’s almost the same as an army general’s salary. Surely a misprint? If in yearly terms, it’s too low for anybody to work there.

    • Mark Galeotti

       /  October 28, 2012

      Absolutely, which is why I didn’t highlight that particular factoid. If it’s not a complete misprint, I suspect it means that it refers to the senior officer (major and upwards) salary band in Moscow. But I honestly don’t know. The average police salary at the moment is, after all, just under 50,000 rubles a month.

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