Public antipathy toward the police runs so deep in Russia that it would seem impossible for the reputation of those paid to protect and serve to get any worse. Reports of graft, assault, fraud and even murder committed by Russian police creep across the news wires almost daily, and according to a survey by the Moscow-based Levada Center polling agency in December 2008, 40% of Russians say they do not trust police, while 28% say they actually fear the cops.
But then came the sensational police whistleblower videos on YouTube. Earlier this month, Alexei Dymovsky, a drug cop in southern Russia, posted emotional video addresses to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on his personal website, accusing his superiors of severely overworking him and pressuring him to fabricate criminal cases to improve clearance rates a practice known in Russian police jargon as "chopping sticks." Dymovsky was fired over the videos, which have amassed more than 1.2 million views since they were reposted on YouTube.
Following his demarche, several more whistleblowers have posted videos on YouTube to much fanfare accusing their superiors of fabricating cases, including one that led to life sentences for two men convicted of a 2005 arson in which 25 people were killed. The two men convicted of setting the fire in the northwestern city of Ukhta were innocent, former policeman Mikhail Yevseyev and former deputy prosecutor Grigory Chekalin said in separate videos.
The online grievances a rarity in a country where law enforcers typically close ranks in the face of public criticism come at an awkward time for Russia's police. In Siberia last month, two police officers allegedly committed separate murder-suicides, leaving a total of five people dead, including themselves. A third policeman in Tuva has been charged with using excessive force after shooting a 17-year-old boy dead in what he claims was self-defense. The slayings came just months after the arrest of a Moscow police officer accused of drunkenly shooting nine people in a supermarket, killing two.
The scandals have sent the country's top cops into damage control mode and intensified calls for an overhaul of Russia's profoundly broken law enforcement system. In late October, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev announced a series of measures aimed at combating graft and weeding out officers prone to violent abuses. The measures include tightening psychological screening standards for new hires, improving transparency when dealing with the media and forcing police officers and their relatives to submit copies of their tax papers in order to keep tabs on any assets gained in illicit ways. "Every day I ride to work and see what kind of cars our employees are driving these days," Nurgaliyev told Russian lawmakers in October. "You can't even imagine it. There's no way many of these cars could be purchased on an officer's salary." The measures follow the release of a code of conduct earlier this year that discouraged drinking on duty, indiscriminate sex and accepting bribes.