Police checks under scrutiny – and criticism

Ukrainians are suffering more and more often from unlawful searches by police officers, especially at railway stations. These are the findings of the latest stage of monitoring carried out by the NGO network “The Police under Scrutiny”. Those who have experienced such treatment agree, the Ministry of the Interior however asserts that it is monitoring the work of its officers since it wants the police to become “people’s helpers”.

Do you look suspicious, have a big bag, differ in ethnic features or are closely studing the map? Beware, you could risk being searched. The results of the latest stage of the nationwide “Police under scrutiny” campaign from 10 to 30 October 2012 found that even one of the above mentioned “features” was often enough for the police to demand to see documents or carry out a search of the person.

Ordinary citizens confirm this, for example, Inna from Lutsk who was detained together with friends two years ago by police because they suspected them of being drunk.

“We’d drunk one litre of beer between five of us, and you don’t get drunk on that. Nor was there anything aggressive or prevocational in our behaviour. Yet we were asked to show ID. Some gave student ID, however they don’t give your date of birth. We were taken to the station and held there for three hours. Friends resolved the situation by buying us out of their for a jar of coffee”, Inna described in a letter to Radio Svoboda.

Is it all about money?

Civic activists say that most problems are resolved by money. However the police through their actions often humiliate people, infringe their rights and act entirely unlawfully.

Vadim Pyvovarov is Executive Director of the Ukrainian Association of Human Rights Monitors of Law Enforcement which is coordinating the Police under Scrutiny campaign. He says that in the majority of cases the police call their action an external examination, yet these are not envisaged by law and are an infringement of the person’s rights. He stresses that the police have only two grounds for checking documents: if a person is suspected of committing a crime or is committing one at that moment. “Unfortunately police officers often check documents for no reason, at their own discretion.”

Radio Svoboda quotes a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry who says that they are giving a lot of attention to how the police work, that they want to stop being a punitive body, and become people’s helpers. He asserts that his department carries out monitoring of the situation in the regions and undertakes explanatory work with police officers. He claims that police officers who commit unlawful actions face reprimand or dismissal, with the relevant documents being sent to the Prosecutor.

The Association of Monitors has sent the Ministry a new list of proposals for improving the situation regarding illegal searches. They believe the main step is through amendments to the normative legislative base.

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