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Rebuilding the police

January 20, 2015

Moves are afoot to reshape, re-brand and reboot the Ukrainian Militsia – including renaming it Police.

Of course simply changing the label on an infamously corrupt institution does nothing to remove the deeply ingrained corruption.  The symbolism of such a re-branding from the past would quickly be lost in the realities of continued corruption very swiftly if there were no change to the existing institutional culture, notwithstanding the regular, nefarious political and judicial interference it suffers from even when acting entirely properly.

Nevertheless symbolism matters – why else topple so many Lenin statues that are otherwise inert and generally ignored objects?

new police

Thus begins not only a re-branding from Militsia to Police, but also a recruitment drive in an effort to change the institutional culture.  Unsurprisingly it begins in Kyiv, and for reasons best known to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nowhere else – yet.   (Candidates to deliver completed applications  personally to Volodymyrska, 57 – the application form found on the MIA website.)

Applicant must be between 21 and 35 years old, have no criminal record, have completed a general higher education, be reasonably fit, have some fluency in English, and hold a Cat B driving license.

The recruitment drive began yesterday and runs until 6th February, during which time the authorities hoped to receive 3000 applications for 2000 jobs.  Competition and quality amongst the candidature, rather than nepotism, filling the vacancies.  Something which, should the current institutional culture change, may eventually lead to pride in the role, an esprit de corps, and ultimately far more respect from society.

An immediate question therefore, is will the MIA manage to reach the 3000 applications for the 2000 jobs, during the 3 weeks it is recruiting?

Yesterday, upon the first day of recruiting, saw 4000 applications submitted – 1000 more than the MIA hoped to get over 3 weeks.  Undoubtedly there will be many more to come.  This despite the militsia/police being poorly paid.

All rather encouraging – if the institutional culture can be changed in and of itself, and if the police remain free of political interference.  By interference, read direct interference.  Drop the case.  Lose the evidence.  To keep your job, this never happened, etc.

However, with the best will in the world, 2000 brand new, re-branded, keen and morally up-right applicants, even when given the best of training, will struggle to change the institutional culture – particularly so within an institution as large as the militsia/police in Kyiv – let alone Ukraine when it is eventually rolled out.  One need only look to the continued rampant corruption within the military despite the of thousands of volunteers since The Kremlin started its on-going war with Ukraine.

Bottom-up change with a far higher calibre of recruit is a beginning.  Yet there needs to be a top-down institutional change, as well as horizontal accountability, for there to be any real chance of success.  Pressure from all sides is required to squeeze out as much of the cancerous corruption as is practicable – though it will never be entirely eradicated.

Whether or not that requires new laws being crafted that are institutionally specific is another question.  Writing laws is not a form of magic that removes problems simply because they reach the statute books.  There is a requirement for them to be effectively and consistently implemented and monitored.

Also questions arise as to who are the police police if the police will not police themselves, and who supports the new highly ethical recruits when they become immersed in a very corrupted institution?

A change in UK police culture came with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – a major piece of legislation for those involved in policing (and by extension prosecutors and the judiciary).  There was a clear and positive effect.

Internally there are of course the Complaints and Discipline departments, as well as the ability to call in other external regional forces to carry out investigations into more serious complaints.  There are Lay Persons, doctors and legal representatives all regularly shuffling in and out of the police detention/cell areas, able to read custody records and make entries where appropriate and make complaints.

All of this would be heading in the right direction from where Ukraine is now, but yet it will still not be enough until the unsullied remain unsullied, and begin to rise through the ranks – and this takes time.  It also takes a promotion system that itself is not corrupted.

Passing an exam, paying a bribe and thus getting promoted can no longer be the way.  Just as a military runs effectively due to its NCOs rather than its generals, the police will remain effective and far less corrupted due to the ethics of its lower ranks within the chain of command who are consistently on the front line too.

Randomly selected promotion panelists from across the nation that form a panel would be a way to remove the regional patriarchy and ingrained local corruption.  If a promotion candidate doesn’t know whether the panel will be comprised of members from Sumy, Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv, or Izmail, Nikoliev, Kherson and Zaporozhye – let alone whom from within those police regions  – bribing promotion panel members becomes very problematic prior to the panel.  Post panel, which would accept a bribe, and which would end a candidates career if one were offered?

Once the lower ranks begin to fill with those who have the integrity to refuse a bribe, then the local canteen culture of various police stations/departments begins to change too.  The more local canteen culture changes, the swifter the institutional change – a change that would probably hasten if the police were paid somewhat better than they currently are.

Admittedly Ukraine is struggling for money – however, to announce a pay structure plan for the 5 year period of the sitting government, with yearly increases, is not that difficult to do – or deliver.  Incentives of the right kind, transparent to all, is possibly worthy of consideration.  Make policing a job that is not worth losing for the majority within its ranks over the small and numerous bribes that currently make up so much of the corruption at the street policing level seems sensible.

Amongst the higher ranks, it is past time for examples to be set with robust custodial sentencing..  Those that did not voluntarily resign prior to, or after, the passing of the lustration law and thus will fall foul of it in the future, should not be merely sacked.  Neither should their resignations be accepted.  Suspension, prosecution and the results of due process are necessary if there is to be a change in culture amongst the hierarchy.  The prospect of quietly retiring upon a nest egg of corrupt cash hidden somewhere should be replaced with the prospect of sitting in a Ukrainian prison (also in dire need of reforms) for several years – even if that means imposing a minimum tariff legislatively.

Scrutiny of the appointment system for the police hierarchy is also required.  The same amount of effort and transparency is required as has been given to that for the head of the new Anti-Corruption Bureau.  It can no longer become a power vertical filled with friends/allies/loyalists to whomever is currently the Minister of Interior.  Political appointments should end.

The re-branding from Militsia to Police is symbolic and necessary.  The competitive recruitment of large numbers of untainted officers is also welcome, as is the sacking of the corrupt that continues – over 20,000 sacked and counting – but it will all be for naught if the institutional culture is not smashed and rebuilt.

Generally, the most effective policing occurs with the consent and goodwill of the public – rather than a begrudging acceptance.  To do that, the loyalty of the police has to be to the rule of law, without fear or favour – and not to any particular Minister, government, judge, or individual/group with large sums of cash who in a telephone call can end a career simply because they were treated like everybody else.

Thus the most interesting issue looking forward will be whether the new policies (and personnel) can remain ethically unsullied long enough for the institutional cultural dirt (and yet more corrupt personnel) to be cleansed sufficiently, leading to a consolidated institutional culture change.

Short term tactics are visible.  Medium term strategy not so.  Goal/vision attainable?  Time will tell.

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