A policeman’s lot is not a happy one – Odessa

September 5, 2015

As the song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Pirates of Penzance states, “a policeman’s lot is not a happy one”.

It is a “lot” that is getting much more unhappy as Governor Saakashvili publicly takes of his political gloves and makes claim of no reforms in Ukraine since Maidan, (except the new Patrol Police) the continuing oligarchical control of the Ukrainian government (and Rada), and the Odessa police being nothing more than a criminal enterprise.

To pluck a few quotes from the above interview, “I’ve been here almost 2 years since the Maidan. I have not seen these big reforms”, and “When we talk about police reform, we are only talking about a small part of the services of law and order”, and “The decisions on reforms are not accepted. I do not think of reforms that the government calls reforms.  I have heard many times Yatsenyuk. He calls it reforms that rates have risen.  I do not call it reform.  I call it a consequence of the economic crisis , the consequence of what is happening in the country. Prices really have to be increased. But this is not reform”, and lastly “I would like to talk about reforms, how do we organise the work of customs officers, how we are completely overcoming corruption, that we will build new roads.  Instead I’m talking about sabotage that is not from Russia, which is interested in the fact that in relation to me there was sabotage, or in relation to this region, not from the local clans, which are widespread, but it is unlikely they would be able to stop me. We’re talking about sabotaging by the central authorities. The authorities in Ukraine controlled by oligarchic interests.”

Fair warning to the Government of Ukraine that Governor Saakashvili believes he can beat the local entrenched and vested interests in Odessa if not for the “sabotage” by, or within, a central government that remains beholding to oligarchical interests.  A veiled message to allow him the legal room and/or tools to do what he believes he is in Odessa to do, or be continually publicly undermined by the Governor when the centre prevents, slows and/or obstructs his reform efforts?

It is an issue that was bound to raise its head sooner rather than later when an ex-President realises just how limited his powers as Governor actually are, and just how hollow, or at least how very difficult to fulfill, any promises of (unconditional) support from the centre would always prove to be.

That said, yesterday saw the Rada vote through funding for the Governor’s road from Odessa to Rive (and on into the EU) and today sack State Aviation Service Head Denys Antoniuk into whom Governor Saakashvili demanded an investigation.  Momentum may not be as swift as he would like, and the victories very small, but he is not being entirely stymied.

The question is whether the centre in allowing numerous small victories was/is retarded enough to think that will buy off Governor Saakashvili from making very public waves over no/slow reforms on the big ticket issues – clearly not at the moment.

When Oleg Makukha, Odessa Police Chief for all of 58 days was caught red-handed accepting a $20,000 bribe, Governor Saakashvili stated that the “Odessa police is well organized criminal syndicate” (excepting the new Patrol Police).  He went on to state that it needs to be completely demolished and rebuilt – which is not news to anybody either within or without the Odessa police.

It is perhaps time to lift the curtain just a little and sneak a peak at how the Odessa police functions within its own structure – and without any regard to the nefarious reach it has into all manner of schemes outside of its own structures.


In contrast to the new Patrol Police that are fairly transparently recruited and vetted, that are paid handsomely in comparison to those that join the “old police”, and who are equipped well and driving around in new cars, the “old police” is a very different story.

So let us begin at the beginning.  How to join the “old police” historically/currently?

In a reversal to avoiding conscription to the Army by paying bribes to stay out, to join the “old police” it was/is necessary to bribe your way into being recruited.  The very first act any potential/wannabe officer in the “old police” did/does was/is an act of corruption just to be accepted.

The average bribe over recent years was/is $2000 to get in.

After (some) training, being kitted out in a uniform and driving around in entirely unroadworthy cars (for the most part), the monthly salary for a new officer was/is about $150 per month.  Quite simply unlivable in Odessa, and not a starting salary that promises the opportunity of owning your own car, let alone your own home – ever!  Supporting a wife or children?

Further such was/is the “system” within the Odessa police, each officer monthly hands/handed over $50 in order to simply keep the job they bribed their way into in the first place.

That $50 per officer is passed up the chain.  The new officer now left with about $100 per month.  $100 is more than a pensioner receives, but about half what somebody selling jeans in the “City Center Shopping Mall” earns – without having to work nights or put themselves at risk or injury or death.

Thus, it is entirely unsurprising that the “old police” rely on bribery (willingly or otherwise).

There are those that keep it to a minimum, and there are those that go far beyond excess – but there are (almost) none that have never indulged in both giving and receiving bribes within the Odessa police structure itself – discounting any interaction with the public (and organised crime).

What of the Police Federation/Union?  Why do they allow such internal systemic abuse of the police internal structure?

Every now and again, the police union will approach the city and state that in order to reduce the solicitation of bribes from the voting constituency, land should be granted to build apartments for the police.  A free apartment reduces the need to solicit bribes that are required to cover accommodation costs wages simply don’t cover, being the inference.

Every so often that land is given and apartments built too – and very, very occasionally a police officer may actually live in one.  Generally these apartments are sold to anybody (rather than given to the police) for the illicit gain of those within the higher ranks and the union.

How then, with an extremely corrupt hierarchy that has followed the same corrupt ladder as the latest recruits will have to in order to make ends meet (and more), and a union that does nothing to actually address the difficulties of its members, is it realistically expected that the “old police” will stop the internal (and external) corruption they are engaged in, and are also actually subjected to?

Let us be blunt, there was/is a point to paying the new “Patrol Police” a wage four or five times higher than that of the “old police” – even if it still seems entirely beyond an “new police officer” ever affording their own home on their far superior wage structure.

Equally there will be the same point to paying any new customs officers far more than the “old” customs officers.

It will be a necessary part of all institutional dismantling and reassembling to offer a wage that does not demand corruption as a supplement, but makes corruption a moral choice rather than one of economic survival.

Is it remotely feasible to simply replace en masse the experience of seasoned detectives, organised crime officers, sexual offences/rape trained officers, human trafficking trained officers, anti-terrorist officers, Interpol, Europol liaison officers, drug and prostitution officers and other specialist units, as it is/was to replace the traffic police?  (Not all, after all, are corrupt, or at least any more corrupt than has been necessary to survive in a grotesquely warped system that has never been valued by the political class, and suffered by the public as a result.)

Probably not.

Indeed the public may suffer just as much, if not more, by an evisceration of the experience within those crime orientated departments/specialisms.  Of course the most corrupt and those with the most dubious of loyalties have to go, but a complete “old” for “new” swap is not necessarily as progressive or clever as it may appear prima facie.

Once again we return to structure (and sustainability).

Questions of policing the police arise.  Who decides who polices the police?  Who decides who decides when major national shifts in political power to the provinces are (necessarily) en vogue?

Should it be an internal oblast complaints and discipline issue?  Should it be an investigation by a different Oblast when nefariousness is discovered?  Should it be an investigation by “the centre/MIA”?  Should policing the police be a horizontal or vertical responsibility?  In house or external?

What of the ineffective and corrupted police federation/union?  How to make it an effective instrument for the rank and file?  Even if uncorrupted, how to give it weight to effect change within the MIA for the betterment of its members?  How much input into Minister Avakov’s diktats does it currently have?  How much input should it have in its currently deformed and poisonous condition?  At what point in the future does it start to demand the a-political independence required of a police service, rather than being (a willing or unwilling) part of the Avakov power vertical?

Where is the deep (not superficial) structural change?  Where is the plan?  It is a secret?  Does it exist?

(Yes these are all corruption and structural questions that can be asked of any Ukrainian institution of State.)

All in all, an “old” policeman’s lot in Odessa is not a happy one – and it seems nobody has a clear plan of action of how to change it for the better.


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