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The Moscow Times, January 22, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies and Police Statistics

By Vladimir Kovalyev

When the State Duma passed amendments to the Criminal Code's section on self-defense in February 2002, it seemed as if a big step had been taken toward developing civilized legislation in the country. Just a few new lines in the code meant more than 2,000 people who were jailed for killing their assailants in self-defense were freed.

"Any sort of [physical] harm caused to an assailant is not a crime," the amendment says.

The Yabloko deputies who wrote the law hoped that the number of assaults and robberies would fall significantly after the amendment came into force, since potential attackers would be aware they could be killed by their victims.

It is not clear, however, whether the deputies' hopes were misplaced or not, because the police lie when they report crimes and so no one knows what the true crime statistics are.

Police fairytales differ sharply from the reality on the streets of St. Petersburg. For instance, this week city police reported that the number of street robberies fell by 35 percent compared to 2002.

If I was under six years old I might believe them. At least three friends of mine have been attacked on the city streets at night: one was robbed, another was threatened with a knife and a third was beaten up in his yard. In none of these cases did the police arrive to file an official report, although they had promised to when called.

I have heard stories about the police ignoring rape cases because they "do not want to make the city look bad."

The St. Petersburg Times receives phone calls from foreign businessmen, diplomats and tourists, complaining that police on patrol steal their money while checking their documents. They have learned to cross the road when they see a police patrol coming.

When stories like this appear in the Russian-language media, officials do not call suspects "police," but "people wearing police uniforms."

Therefore, I was extremely happy to read this week that Governor Valentina Matviyenko will give beat cops a 60 percent pay rise this year. In theory, one should expect fewer phone calls complaining about police behavior in the future, but to be honest I don't hold out much hope of that happening.

The police had some bad news last year, according to an official report on a meeting of the city's top police officers this week. They are not happy that in some city districts "the number of arrests made in drug cases has dropped by almost 25 percent."

Knowing how careful the police are about their statistics and being familiar with stories of how law enforcers fabricate crimes by planting drugs in people's pockets during a routine check of documents, this is quite worrying. I expect the number of reported drug arrests to soar, not because the problem has got any worse, but in order to furnish the "right" numbers for police chiefs.

In the next two years, the police are due to be reformed. The main goal of the reform is to centralize management and make it fully subordinate to the federal authorities. However, at the same time, the Interior Ministry plans to allow regional authorities to form their own police units to protect people from such crimes as robberies and assaults (the federal part will concentrate on "serious issues" such as terrorism and drug dealing).

The police do indeed need reform, but of a different kind.

Officials at all levels of the national law enforcement system should stop lying and try to get a better picture of how the police themselves are a part of the crime statistics.

This is the only way to improve the police's awful public image. The public has lost all hope of help from those who are supposed to protect them -- the only thing people expect from the police is trouble.

Only after the lying ends will the deputies be able to find out if their amendments are working.

Vladimir Kovalyev is a reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.


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The Moscow Times, January 22, 2004

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