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‘Everyone’s drinking, from grandmas to kids’ Moscow police union chairman describes what cops themselves think about crowds at subway entrances and arresting people for walking their dogs

Source: Meduza
Vladimir Velengurin / Komsomolskaya Pravda / Photoxpress

The Moscow police have been sharply criticized since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Police routinely arrest citizens under questionable circumstances for violating the quarantine and permit rules. Police action in mid-April resulted in huge lines at subway entrances — at a time when social distancing is particularly important. At the same time, police officers themselves are increasingly falling ill with COVID-19. Meduza spoke with Mikhail Pashkin, the chairman of the Moscow Interregional Police Union, about how the epidemic is affecting the work of law enforcement.

How many Moscow police officers are sick? How many are under quarantine?

I don’t have the exact information at the moment, but a week ago, there were about 20 who were sick and about 500 others who had been placed in isolation. If a police officer is sick, his entire family and anyone around him are supposed to be placed on lockdown.

For example, the battalion commander in the subway got sick, so the whole division was supposed to be quarantined. Like at a hospital where a woman who had the coronavirus went for an X-ray, so the entire hospital, everyone there, was quarantined. But if we proceeded in that way, we’d have only half, if not less, of the police force. Since the police force is an essential service that has to function under all conditions, the employees keep working. For example, in Internal Affairs, 30 percent of the personnel have fallen ill. Officially, they have acute respiratory infections.

What about testing the police?  

It's all very clever with testing. There's no testing being done in the Moscow Interior Ministry's clinics. I even know a hospital in the Moscow region where people got the coronavirus and the hospital wasn’t quarantined. You see how that works? If the whole hospital or the whole department goes into quarantine, who’s going to guard the place? We assume that employees are healthy people, after all. They may be carriers, walking around with the disease. They’re saying now that 60 percent of people are asymptomatic.

What are police complaining about?

We don’t have an adequate supply of protective equipment. Doctors work in masks and protective glasses. Have you ever seen protective glasses on a police officer? That’s how the guy who was chief of public order in the Internal Affairs Directorate became infected and died.

The union’s website says that management should provide the police with protective equipment. Judging by the number of police on the street without masks, this definitely hasn’t been done. 

It’s City Hall that supplies the protection. The interior ministry doesn’t have the capabilities and budget to do this. The city orders masks for police officers and doctors — 80,000 a day, each employee gets two or three masks. But I also need protective glasses, and I need hazmat suits. If this outrageous situation continues, I think that the appropriate conclusions will be drawn, and stockpiles of protective gear will be created for the future. We’ve all been taken by surprise. 

Are police officers getting extra pay for work in the pandemic? 

Not yet, but they’ve promised bonuses of 20,000 or 30,000 rubles [about $335] to those who work. Exactly who gets it and in what order — the mayor’s office decides. They’re saying the money will be given to those who go on the front lines [to patrol the streets], go with doctors, and check on compliance by quarantined coronavirus patients.

Who’s working the most right now?

We’ve got everyone involved now: the internal services, lawyers, personnel inspectors, the staff who usually sit in their offices, everyone who’s never really been out on the streets. They’ve been assigned to stations where they work with the precincts, with the National Guard. We have 16,000 people walking around Moscow on patrol, 24 hours a day. Three thousand of them are National Guardsmen, and the rest are employees of the Moscow Command. Everyone is working overtime, and city hall promises to pay extra for this.

How has the crime situation changed?

Sales of alcohol have increased four to five times. People are drinking in this isolation. Everyone’s drinking, from grandmas to kids. Domestic crime is on the rise — not street crime, but domestic crime. If everyone’s drinking, they all start beating their wives and each other.

We’re seeing some videos online — for example, of police officers dragging an elderly woman and forcing her into a patrol car. Can you explain these incidents?

Our officers have been instructed to detain as few people as possible for being on the streets in violation of the law. Of course, there are officers who act in bad faith. But that depends on their immediate supervisor, and on the way they were brought up. You see, there are criminals and corruption in all branches of government. We can’t make everyone honest and good. People are different everywhere: even if they are in uniform, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know all the laws and comply with them completely. But if you don’t have a pass, then stay home, don’t go out.

I also want to say in defense of the police that not all of these online videos are objective. We often see a rough arrest, or a verbal altercation, but we don’t see what happened before that — how the officers could have been provoked, for example, by obscenities and so on.

Is there a sort of quota system, where police are evaluated on the number of actions they take?

There is no such plan, I can tell you that with authority. There are no such instructions from the leadership of the Moscow headquarters or districts. I have spoken to several district chiefs on this subject. If anyone brings any such instructions to our attention, the manager who gave them will immediately be dismissed. And we can complain about it to the union and directly to headquarters.

How did it happen that on April 15, the day digital passes were introduced, there were such long lines at subways entrances? The police were checking every pass manually. 

The officers didn't enjoy that. The decision to check everyone was made by the Mayor’s Office, together with management at our headquarters. The officers simply executed it. Yes, the consequences of the decision were not considered, but it was our first such experience. The situation is much better now.

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Interview by Maxim Solopov

Translation by Carol Matlack