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    Kremlin Calls for Major Russian Police Reduction

    President Medvedev says he has ordered drastic cuts in the Interior Ministry as part of efforts to reform the nation's widely criticized police force. Medvedev said Thursday he had ordered to halve the number of personnel in the ministry's head office to about 10,000.

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    Peter Fedynsky

    Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is calling for major police reforms, including a 50 percent reduction in the number of officials working at Interior Ministry headquarters and sub-units.  The Kremlin leader is also seeking to increase compensation for Interior Ministry police.

    President Medvedev says there is a need to eliminate Interior Ministry functions that are redundant or not relevant to police work.

    Mr. Medvedev says he has made a decision to cut the number of employees at headquarters and subordinate structures from 19,970 people to 10,000.  He says there will also be a review of functions, which should correspond to the Ministry's current needs, its mission and resources.

    Police at an opposition demonstration, Moscow (file)
    Police at an opposition demonstration, Moscow (file)

    Accordingly, he has sent a bill to parliament that would transfer responsibility for various tasks from the Interior Ministry to other agencies.  These include the expulsion of illegal immigrants, running detoxification centers, and conducting vehicle inspection.

    Traffic police in Russia are notoriously corrupt.  In a common practice, which Russians refer to as "grazing," police use vehicle inspection as a pretext to stop drivers at random for bribes.  Low pay has long been considered a reason for motorist shakedowns.  Mr. Medvedev says salary increases are a priority.

    The Kremlin leader says decisions should be made shortly about increasing monetary compensation.  He says the government is reviewing specific proposals at his request.  Mr. Medvedev also expresses hope the Russian economy will develop better this year than last, which would allow authorities to address housing shortages among Interior Ministry employees.

    He says more than 1.3 million crimes went unsolved in Russia last year.  There include more than 2,000 murders or attempted murders, 760,000 thefts and 124,000 burglaries.

    At the same time, Russian criminal psychiatrist Mikhail Vinogradov says virtually every Interior Ministry department is bloated with paper shufflers - a chief, two deputies, a senior expert, secretaries, and junior secretaries.  Vinogradov has been vocal in Russian media about downsizing the country's police forces.  He told VOA he welcomes Mr. Medvedev's initiative, but cautions that some officials will remain corrupt despite higher pay.

    Vinogradov says generals at the Defense Ministry have very high salaries and take very large bribes.  It is a different question, he adds, whether a salary increase will change the material situation of most employees.  He says 75 percent of them are honest individuals who simply cannot survive under current conditions.  Vinogradov claims another 20 to 25 percent are thieves and drunks.   

    Mr. Medvedev's reform proposal follows a highly publicized series of police crimes, including murders, rapes, and beatings.  There were two instances in just the past week of drunken police officers hitting pedestrians with cars.   

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