Status: 02.10.2023, 05:32 a.m.
By: Robert Wagner
The war in Ukraine is exacerbating the shortage of personnel in the Russian police apparatus – it is not only charges of army denunciation that are causing overload.
Moscow - It is a development that may surprise many: According to the Russian Interior Ministry, Russia has more than 900,000 police officers, making it one of the largest police forces in the world. For every 100,000 inhabitants, there are almost 630 civil servants - more than twice as many as in the United States. And yet Russia is running out of police officers, as the BBC has now reported. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev had to admit this in August 2023. His country has a "critical" shortage of police officers, which could have an impact on crime rates.
This development has been in the making for several years. For example, a former police officer from central Russia told the BBC that vacancies had remained vacant for a long time. "There has been a shortage for ages. I started in 2015, and in the last eight years, only two people have joined our team, while 15 have left." The upheavals caused by the Ukraine war are further exacerbating the situation.
Lack of personnel in the Russian police: "Only an idiot would go to the police now"
The decline in the Russian police has many causes. One of the main reasons is likely to be the surprisingly low pay. Combined with the stressful nature and risks of this profession, it motivates many officers to leave the police force for better-paying jobs. Russia's ailing economy, with inflation and rising prices, accompanied by international sanctions, exacerbates this problem.
A Russian policeman in Moscow (symbolic image). © IMAGO/Russian Look
"They didn't adjust salaries at all," a former police officer from Rostov-on-Don in southwestern Russia told the BBC. "After inflation and new prices, it's not enough." He quit and became a taxi driver. A friend of his also left the police and now works as a courier driver. Significantly, both now earn twice as much as before as police officers.
"I have reached the rank of major. Still, someone who works in a supermarket earned more than I did. Only an idiot would go to the police now," said the former police officer from Rostov-on-Don.
Police in Russia: Unrealistic requirements lead to stress and promote corruption
According to the BBC, another reason for the bleeding of the Russian police is the permanent overload, for example due to blanket time limits. As a result, the tasks of daily police work are inadequately fulfilled or not fulfilled at all. "Everyone has ten days to review statements, whether it's five or 50. This, of course, deteriorates the quality of the work," said a police officer from the Russian part of Siberia.
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These requirements sometimes make it impossible to complete all the necessary steps of police work - with the result that proceedings are not initiated in the first place and charges are not brought. Together with the growing shortage of personnel, all this leads to excessive demands on the remaining officers, which in turn promotes corruption and police violence.
"Officers beat confessions out of people, inflate arrest rates, we see that all the time," says a police major from the Russian city of Tomsk. "It's only going to get worse. Evidence is falsified, there is targeted beating, there is simply no time left to investigate something properly." In many cases, it is easier to "drag the first suspect to the station and beat him up" so that he takes the blame.
The Ukraine war leads to new crimes - and less time for real crimes
This stress factor is further exacerbated by the Ukraine war and the associated establishment of a dictatorship under the warlord Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, any criticism of the war, which can still only be called a "special military operation", has been criminalized. Anyone who publicly addresses the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers risks several years in prison in Putin's Russia - for alleged misinformation about the Russian army.
These new criminal offences also led to a further overload of the already sparsely staffed police stations. "Endless accusations" for allegedly discrediting the army are now on the agenda. There is a veritable culture of denunciation, said a former police major from Tomsk. "People are always looking for an excuse to denounce someone."
The police have hardly any capacity left to deal with real crimes. Instead, "crimes against the state" came to the fore of police work, which of course was wanted from above. Priority is given to the testimony of a senior citizen who claims to have seen a curtain in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In Russia today, a political crime. "In the future, even more cases will fall into this category," predicted the major from Tomsk.
There is fear among the Russian police of being recruited into the Ukraine war
However, the Ukraine war is also having an impact in a way that initially counteracted the loss of personnel in the police. At the outbreak of war, quite a few police officers who were about to quit their service preferred to remain on duty - because police officers cannot be called up for military service.
"Either you stood firm, or you left and were drafted," said a police officer from Moscow. The official also told of superiors who drew up lists of all those who threatened to quit and passed them directly to the army's recruiting service. "Everyone was pretty scared."
Nevertheless, there are still massive personnel shortages that cannot be filled - not to mention the 40,000 additional forces that are needed in Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the Interior Ministry, i.e. in the territories of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russia. And another 42,000 police officers will be needed if Russia occupies more territories.