President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, today our plan is to discuss draft federal law On the Police Force. This is not the first debate on this draft law; not so long ago, I met with your colleagues in the Republic of Mari El. Today, apart form police officers, the meeting participants include members of the public and representatives of various organisations that want to ensure the draft law is discussed in detail. I have changed the venue of our meeting in connection with the terrorist attack which took place in Pyatigorsk.
Earlier today the Minister briefed me on the investigation of the crime, and, clearly, everything that is being done must be brought to conclusion. This is a grave crime committed by persons whose identity is as yet to be established, and the investigation must continue. Everyone involved in the attack must be found, and its masterminds must be brought to justice. In determining their punishment, we must proceed both from the criminal law and from our moral values. If they put up resistance, they must be eliminated.
Now, let us turn to the main subject on our agenda. I will not talk a great deal. I would like to hear those of you present here comment on the draft law. There has been an active public debate for some time now, including online, since it has been published on the website www.zakonoproekt2010.ru.
I regularly read through the comments people write on the site and I see different opinions. Many of them are critical, which is actually good because the purpose of having a public debate is not for people to write: ”Oh, that’s absolutely great, what a wonderful law you have thought up, we agree with everything.“ The purpose of the debate is quite different: to identify its weaknesses, to locate, perhaps, its internal inconsistencies, which sometimes occur in draft laws even when they are very carefully prepared, to compare it with existing legislation, to see how it measures up to our vision of the future police force, what benefits it can bring and what problems or imperfections it contains that need to be corrected. This is the purpose of discussing a draft law, and I hope we will see its positive effects. The Ministry is analysing these materials on my instruction, and the Presidential Executive Office is taking part in this work as well.
We can discuss different issues here, those related to service at the Interior Ministry and to police service, as well as police officers’ rights and responsibilities which is something that greatly concerns our people, for whom the police is part of their everyday lives, who come into direct contact with police officers, therefore it gives rise to many questions and issues. In general, everything connected with the state exercising its capabilities.
Let's get down to work. I don’t think I will say anything else for now. I would like to hear the opinions of those of you present here. The only request I have, given my schedule, since I still have to fly to a neighbouring country for talks, is to make your statements concise.
Go ahead, please. I propose that we don’t begin with top officials such as the Presidential Envoy, the Minister or the Governor, but all the rest of you present here.
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I am not going to comment on everything because there is not enough time, but I will comment on a few points. Some of the points made seem to me entirely justified, and others need some additional reflection.
The idea that only graduates of Interior Ministry higher educational institutions should be taken on as officers is debatable. Of course the whole reason these specialised universities exist is to produce these officers, giving them the specialised knowledge and skills they will need in their work, and for the most part, the police force is made up of graduates from these universities.
But I do not think it would be right to set such a strict rule in this area. I am judging from my own experience too. Among the people studying with me there were many who became very worthy members of the police force, with a good education – the St Petersburg university was well-reputed, after all – and many of them worked as investigators.
I am not trying to suggest that civilian specialists are any better or any worse, but I do not think we should establish this as a general model. This could lead to a situation when, for example, someone wants to join the police force but has graduated from a civilian university, a law faculty or law institute, say, and even if he is genuinely the better candidate, the police officials will be obliged to give preference to a weaker candidate, say, but who has graduated from a specialised university, and this would not really be very fair.
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The overall conclusion is that this law strengthens the police’s role, and I think that this is good because we need an effective police force and not a weak and lax one, and if the new law can achieve this, this is a good thing.
The question of which powers are absolutely evident and which perhaps need some adjustment is another matter, however.
I completely agree with what you said regarding article 31 [this article includes among the requirements for police officers’ professional conduct the need to take into account different ethnic and social groups’ cultural and other specificities, and also help to promote tolerance between different ethnic groups and faiths]. We live in a very complex country, a very big country with a complex ethnic and religious makeup.
All of the police representatives here know what kind of problems this can create, and ordinary people know too. Some of you, sadly, have had personal experience of these problems, given that our country has experienced various sorts of conflicts at different moments. Some of these are latent conflicts, long since hidden under the surface, but that can emerge into the open, and some of them are already open conflicts that we cannot ignore. And so our police officers absolutely do need to understand the local situation in the place where they are working, because work in the police force and the public service in general differs here in the Caucasus, for example, from work in Moscow, St Petersburg or the Far East. This does not mean that everything is easy there, for each place has its problems, but this region has its own specific situation, its own problems and risks, and these are all things that we need to take into account.
The question is how to acquire these skills and knowledge? We have a number of possibilities at our disposal. First, we have our system of educational establishments – the courses and seminars within the Interior Ministry system. And finally, there is also the experience that senior officers share with their juniors. This is all absolutely normal. Any young man or woman who joins the police force will naturally talk with and learn from colleagues and seniors. This is essential, otherwise conflicts and difficulties will arise. And so I support you completely on this point.
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The point you make about public control is also entirely fair, I think, and I hope that this point will be taken into consideration.
The new law offers a lot more than the current law on the police force. This is good because it is a direct law, and the fact that is open for all citizens makes it possible to answer all manner of questions. It will make it unnecessary to issue bylaws, executive orders, and government and ministerial regulations on the majority of provisions. Of course, it is not possible to completely do away with ministerial regulations, because life presents an endless diversity of situations and we would find ourselves having to write a whole folio, but in any case, the law already regulates in great detail the main rights, obligations and status of the police force.
And so I think, on the question of setting up public oversight bodies, we should start by deciding on the basic procedural elements first. This would be the proper way to go, and so let’s do this.
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Regarding the social and financial aspect, this is unquestionably very important. The police force will not be able to attract anyone to its ranks if it offers only paltry social guarantees. We all know what real problems police officers have. We know what kind of wages they receive, and know what concerns they have about their future pensions and the social guarantees currently offered.
And so I want to address the police officers here directly and say that this issue will be settled, but we decided that, rather than diluting it in the new law’s provisions, we would pass a separate law specifically addressing the social guarantees for Interior Ministry personnel, and this law is being drafted right now. Why did we decide to do this? Because this document needs to be in balance with those applying to other security and law enforcement agencies, for a start. We have the armed forces and the intelligence services, for example, and we need to make sure that identical or similar conditions apply to all. This law will appear, and we hope it will be ready very soon in fact. This is natural, and I will definitely help to advance this document, as will the minister, of course.
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On the subject of the links between the police, the local authorities and the general public, the matter of public oversight was already discussed, and I just want to add that I fully support the idea of serious public oversight within the framework set by the law. This is a substantive framework that at the same time will not hinder the police force’s work, because the police must be able to carry out its operations unimpeded, in accordance with the law, but with serious and thorough public oversight in place.
As for the links with the local authorities and contact with the people in general, we all realise that the police force is the law enforcement organisation closest to the public, and this is the situation throughout the whole world. The special services and the armed forces are never on the front line with the public in this way, and this is one of the things that makes police work so complex in fact, because it involves daily contact with people and is very difficult psychologically, not to mention the risks involved.
As for the matter of the future model we should use for our police force, I thought about this matter long and hard before this law was drafted. Overall, we need to develop a police force that will have a strong federal component, as we have today, but also strong regional and municipal components. This question is how to develop this model in practice. The laws currently in force essentially divide the responsibilities in these areas.
The problem, unfortunately, is that real exercise of these powers and their financial and organisational implementation is often lacking. The new law therefore implements a federal model for the police force’s work. This is not a random decision but is a conscious choice, not in favour of increased centralisation of powers in our country, but in order to change work in the police force, make it more modern, better funded, and backed up by the necessary financial guarantees.
I am sure that we can achieve this within five-ten years, say, though I do not know exactly how long it will take, and as soon as we achieve this we will then begin the next stage, which will see some powers returned to the regions. This will give us a more civilised model of interaction, such as exists in many countries, and the law will be adjusted accordingly when this time comes.
But before making the transition to this model we first need to consolidate the system itself. The police force is currently weak, shaky, and without proper financial support. We need to put it back together, and this is the aim of the reforms we are carrying out.
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On the question of wording, I agree that wording should be clear and precise, but at the same time has to be possible to implement. This is always a matter of lawmaking technique. As a lawyer I understand all of this. We must avoid extremes. We must not create totally casuistic wording that would require absolutely colossal efforts from the police to be implemented and cause them to turn endless circles and find now way in and no way out. That would be one extreme.
But equally dangerous is ‘elastic’ wording, descriptive wording that can be stretched to cover any circumstances and does not provide clear regulation of action. The whole problem is to find the golden mean on issues such as police officers’ right to enter premises. The police force must have such powers after all, otherwise what kind of police force is it? We are not talking about a people’s militia after all, but representatives of the state authorities. The same goes for the right to demand to see an ID. But you are right, such demands must be justified, and this procedure must be regulated. This is a question of lawmaking skill. I think it is right that you raise this issue and we will continue to work on it.
On the question of human resources, most of the people working in the police force are worthy and excellent people who perform their duties at the risk of their lives. I have many such friends and acquaintances working in the police force. There are also people unworthy of their jobs, criminals, but this is true not only of the police force. Among all public servants we find worthy people and we find others, who commit crimes.
Of course, we cannot change everything overnight. Active discussion is underway on this subject at the moment, as is the renaming question. But our aim is not simply to change the name. This is more of an end result, a symbolic thing. We set this goal when the law’s provisions were drafted and the law’s name was changed. This is secondary, of course, compared to the content, rights and obligations, and status of police officers, and secondary for the public too.
But the law itself has a rule in the final article on procedures for joining the police force. Incidentally, our colleagues in Mari El proposed a more radical version than what we have here. They proposed first of all removing everyone from the police force personnel lists and only then taking them on again as members of the new force. I mentioned this to the minister and said that we need to look into this idea, in order to have the possibility, say, of releasing those who have compromised themselves, say, especially given that in some areas we have not enough police officers, and in others we have too many. We plan cutbacks in accordance with the order that I signed, quite significant cutbacks, and it would make sense to do this in conjunction with the transition to the new status and the new system of work. So this is something we need to think about. I have already given the minister and other colleagues instructions on this matter.