March 26, 2009
Ministry Tries to Make Gentlemen of Cops
By Natalya Krainova / The Moscow Times
Widely seen by the public as corrupt, crude and often violent, the country's police force has perhaps the most odious reputation of any public servants.
But in a drive to turn policemen into gentlemen, the Interior Ministry has implemented a behavior code forbidding its officers from engaging in a range of unseemly deeds, from cursing to smoking to adultery.
The new code, distributed to senior Interior Ministry officials at an assembly last month, spells out ethical norms for police officers -- prohibiting them from, among other things, drinking at work, gambling, making crude jokes, talking on cell phones on public transportation and smoking in public.
Taking a severely moralistic tone, the code states that policemen must not be "committed to the cult" of money and power, and it even bans one of the seven deadly sins: envy. It also calls on police to be polite, use correct Russian grammar and be courteous to women.
"It is impossible to create an ideal police officer, but we must strive for it," Interior Ministry's spokesman Oleg Yelnikov told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Current and former police officers were skeptical about the possible effectiveness of the code, however, saying it is next to impossible to abide by and reveals the authors' ignorance of actual police work.
The document, which was drafted by the ministry's personnel department, is "total rubbish," a city police officer told The Moscow Times on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk with the media. The authors have "lost touch with reality," he added.
The code, which came into effect in late December, replaced a 1993 police ethics code that was "morally bankrupt," Yelnikov said.
Opinion polls consistently show police as one of the country's least trusted institutions, and police officers nationwide are routinely indicted for corruption and violent crimes.
The Interior Ministry has not been oblivious to public antipathy toward police: The behavior code is the latest in several ministry initiatives in recent years aimed at cleaning up the police force's image.
The city police officer interviewed for this report, however, said several aspects of the code, including the ban on adultery, were absurd.
"If I walk out on my wife, that doesn't mean I am a bad policeman," he said.
Maxim Agarkov, a former analyst with the Interior Ministry's anti-terrorism department, called the code "useless."
"I have an impression that the personnel department staff that drafted it has never been to a police station," said Agarkov, now an analyst with the SK-Strategia think tank.
Agarkov said the adultery ban violated officers' constitutional right to privacy and that police had the right to smoke in public because there is no law forbidding it.
Yelnikov, the Interior Ministry spokesman, dismissed criticism of the code by current police officers, saying it was an "excuse" for their reluctance to do their work properly.
Both Agarkov and the city police officer said drinking on the job and hanging out with criminals -- both banned in the behavior code -- were necessary aspects of police work, particularly on undercover assignments.
"As I drink [with criminals], I extract valuable information from them," the officer said.
Drinking on the job, however, has spawned many incidents with police.
In one bizarre altercation earlier this month, the captain of the Lomonosovsky police precinct, near Moscow State University in western Moscow, hacked off the hand of one of his subordinates with an ax in a drunken argument during March 8 International Women's Day celebrations, the sensationalist web site Life.ru reported.
"Indeed, ahead of March 8 celebrations, a conflict broke out in the precinct, the circumstances and causes of which are now being established," RIA-Novosti cited a city police spokesman as saying on March 10.
Though the junior officer's hand was hanging from his arm by a "thin strip of skin," doctors managed to reattach it, Life.ru reported, adding in a subsequent report that the police captain had been fired.
The police spokesman told RIA-Novosti that an internal assessment of the incident was being conducted but gave no further details. .