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Russia Grapples with Mentally Unstable Police Officers


A series of recent murders committed in anger by law enforcement officers in Russia has raised questions about hiring procedures and mental stability within the country's police ranks.

Public concern over raging police officers has grown since April, when a drunken Moscow precinct chief killed two people and injured seven during a supermarket shooting spree. He claims to have been under stress following an argument with his wife.

In November, three off-duty police officers were arrested in connection with a beating death in Moscow. One has been charged with murder, the others for not stopping their colleague. All were reported drunk.

Last week, a police colonel was arrested in the capital for allegedly shooting a snow plough driver who had accidentally hit his car last month. The officer claims he was under pressure because his pregnant wife was in the car and he was concerned about damage to his vehicle.

On Wednesday, 26-year-old Alexei Mitayev was charged in the beating death of a journalist at a police detoxification center in the city of Tomsk.

The newspaper he worked for, Tomskaya Nedelya, says he was taken there after neighbors complained of loud music in his apartment, where he had been drinking. The newspaper also alleges he was sodomized in police custody with a broomstick or shovel. The investigating prosecutor in Tomsk, Andrei Gusev, says the incident is the result of prolonged psychic trauma.

Gusev says officer Mitayev essentially supported two families, and explains that all of his problems and stresses were tied to domestic issues.

The deputy governor of Tomsk Oblast, Yuri Sukhopliuev, says there were no signs the accused was unstable.

Sukhopliuev says it is clear that (police) hiring procedures must be improved. He refers to the accused as a scoundrel, saying his personnel folder did not raise any suspicions that he was capable of such an act.

But veteran Russian criminal psychiatrist Mikhail Vinogradov told VOA that 30 percent of the country's police officers are either alcoholics or psychopaths who get their jobs through corrupt connections.

Vinogradov says Russia's entire police system is riddled with nepotism. He says everyone in the system backs everyone else, and there also are clans that compete with one another (for police jobs).

Vinogradov, who worked many years with the Soviet and then Russian Interior ministries, says personnel procedures allow unstable people to slip through the system.

For example, says Vinogradov, there was a case of a police sergeant in Moscow's southern district who was fired after a psychiatric examination. But that sergeant was accepted in another district without any consultation with a psychiatrist, and is now under arrest on rape charges.

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev assured President Dmitri Medvedev during a meeting in September that the ministry's management would take personal responsibility for the moral and psychiatric state of its employees. He made the statement in response to April's supermarket shootings. Psychiatry came up in October when Nurgaliev addressed lawmakers about police hiring practices.

Nurgaliev says active personnel measures are being implemented, including special psychiatric and physiological exams through the use of lie detectors. He adds that measures have been adopted with regard to reserve forces, as well as to systems for training and promoting managers. The minister says psychiatric exams are now mandatory for management positions.

Mikhail Vinogradov says the majority of Russian police officers are honest and hard working individuals. But he adds, Russia has about 30 percent more police than it needs and could improve law enforcement by getting rid of those he claims are unstable.

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