On Police Reform in Ukraine


Police reform in any measure and place is something which today’s police leaders need to be both aware and conversant.

So here’s a look at police reform and the troubles and resistance it faces whether you are in Ukraine or the U.S. We begin with viewing the above video documentary — “Officer Ilona Reporting for Duty:”

[Ed. Note: I want to thank Prof. Gary Cordner for continuing to monitor police reform events around the world — like that which is going on in Ukraine today. He blogs at “Modern Policing.” You might want to follow him. The following report has been edited and the full report is available HERE.]

Police Reform in Ukraine

From the Karkhiv Human Rights Protection Group

The Ukraine police reform process began in March 2014.  Since then there have been the following results:

A police development strategy was created and discussed in different circles, with the participation of the public, national and international experts.  This strategy was adopted on Oct 22, 2014.

A national platform entitled ‘Reforming the Police: Transparency and Accountability’ was created to draw up an action plan and carry out its various components.

In parallel a pilot scheme was launched to improve police work in the Lviv region, with the results of this giving answers to questions regarding the police reform in general.

As part of the pilot scheme a new police department structure was tried out in Lviv.  This envisages an increase in the patrol service to 70% of staffing. Lviv also saw the introduction of the first phase of a new database system. This has thus created a constantly updated electronic map of crime-linked events in the Lviv region.

A new system was also drawn up and introduced in Lviv for assessing the work of police bodies on the basis of the public attitude…  A comparison of the results of the two surveys, one in September 2014, the other in July 2015 made it possible to assess the changes in the attitude of the public to the police in each part of the city of Lviv and the Lviv region. Overall, the level of trust had more than doubled, increasing from 19% in 2014 to 41% in 2015.

The police patrol service and traffic police were merged into a single patrol as part of an experiment in Khmelnytsky in Dec 2014 – Feb 2015.  This made it possible to identify the requirements in number of cars in proportion to the population, in petrol, number of officers and to work out the pattern for patrols, etc.

These results were used to bring in a new patrol police in regional centres and other large cities, as well as swift reaction units in rural areas and small towns.

At present, the new patrol police are working in 35 cities and are made up mainly of officers who were not formerly in the police force.

A new model for local police stations was tested in a number of cities in June-July 2015.

Under this model the police have become more efficient.  In rural areas swift response units for the first time ever arrive swiftly when called.  There has been a significant change in the functions of the duty police officers who work in close contact with swift response units.

A new progressive law on the National Police came into force on Nov 7, 2015, replacing the old law on the Police. Despite a few failings, this law enables the further development of the police.

One feature of the reforms has been the development of crime mapping, making it possible to visually present reports on crimes received by the police and to look for missing children. A major achievement has been seen in the creation of a Human Rights Department within the National Police.

The next stages in reform will involve deepening the changes to the National Police; restructuring the work of the crime bloc; bringing detectives who combine the functions of operations officers and investigators; changes to the system for police education and medicine.

Amendments to legislation are needed to enable further police reform.  The next step in development of territorial departments of the National Police should be to introduce a ‘bush model’ where the entire region is divided into several such units, with a central police department responsible for investigating serious and particularly serious crimes.

One of the main problems is insufficient funding for further reforms. The lack of financing may render all reform efforts meaningless.

There is an urgent need to even out the pay. It is abnormal when patrol officers who have worked for 6 months or a year should be earning double as much as investigators or operations officers with 10-15 years’ experience.

Technical support has always been of enormous importance and we are extremely grateful for this help, however increase in salaries can only be paid for by the Ukrainian taxpayer.

What’s Really Going on With Ukraine’s Police Reform?

Hromadske is an internet television station in Ukraine which began broadcasting in November, 2013. In the following article they break down what’s really going on with Ukraine’s police reform.:  (Ed: Note: The following article has been edited and the full story is available HERE.)

It’s been two years since Ukraine’s new National Police officially replaced the old militia. But now, the National Police’s effectiveness is being called into question… Though the authorities maintain that the police system is undergoing changes, advocates for reforms and law enforcement reform experts are taking a more critical stance.

Recent History

During the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Revolution, Ukrainian security forces fired on protesters, killing around a hundred people… In response, the government initiated a plan to reform Ukrainian law enforcement by replacing the old patrol police force (the Militsiya)…

In July 2015, the government launched the new patrol police force in the country’s capital, Kyiv. The process was then repeated with the establishment of new patrol police departments  in regional capitals across Ukraine. Departments were also set up in other key towns, focusing on Ukraine’s borders with the European Union and the frontline of the war in Donbas.

On November 7, 2015, the new National Police officially replaced the old militia.

The creation of the new patrol police is often heralded as one of the few successful reforms of Ukrainian law enforcement…

The Director of the Kharkhiv Institute of Social Research, Denys Kobzin, remains wary of the new patrol police as a “decorative element” in the reform process.

“Everyone was in euphoria: beautiful cars, beautiful young people, there was a lot of information about how objectively they acted,” recalled Kobzin. “But it wasn’t used to the fullest extent in order to change the rest.”

Investigation into police reforms also revealed that many officers are leaving the force. And for those who remain, their quality of work appears to be declining. So how “new” are Ukraine’s patrol police officers? And moreover, are they effective?

Problems, Old and New

Although the government allegedly planned to fully replace the [old] Militsiya, the number of new patrol police accounts for just 12,000 of the 140,000 police officers in the country — less than ten percent.

“Eight percent of previous militia were dismissed by the results of attestation. And half of them were returned [to the police] by court decision.”

Members of the new patrol police themselves also testify to the reform’s setbacks.

“They had big plans for us. And for the first few months I really believed it would happen. But the guys at the top, probably thought it was too dangerous to infuse so much young blood in the police. It was better to rely on old professionals.”

The presence of members of the “old guard” continues to be a sensitive issue in the reform process.

The head of the national police was appointed in February 2017, after the resignation of former chief. As a member of the “old guard,” he has faced comparisons to his predecessor as well as mounting criticism after a recent spate of violent murders and crimes in Ukraine’s peaceful regions.

However, the spread of illegal weapons from front-line territory to other regions of Ukraine accounts for the rising violence. “We opened the weapons arsenal. Our enemies did the same. Weapons spread to peaceful regions. Unfortunately, this is a common situation in every country where there is a war.”

“Of course the war in the East, the social and economic situation, and the amount of illegal weapons in our country – it’s all [had] a huge influence [on] police work.”

Victims of Attrition

Increased criminality, lack of resources and declining numbers of police is also leaving the remaining officers overworked. Officers say that the demands of the job are extreme and they often have to work or undergo training on their days off.

According to a former female patrol officer from Lviv, multiple members of her platoon were diagnosed with high blood pressure and chronic fatigue. Doctors ordered them to rest, but, for most, there was no time.

Contrary to popular perception, officers report that police salaries remain very low even after the reforms. Furthermore, officers can be subject to monetary penalties for infractions and are not provided with insurance for their cars, equipment and health. Often, this means they have to pay out of pocket.

“We were told from the start that we should take care of the police cars. Unofficially, if a Prius (police car] is damaged, it will cost us. The patrol officer is [also] responsible for the body cams and tablets. If someone knocks a tablet out of your hands or you break it, you will have to fix it at your own expense.”

Officers also say that low salaries make it difficult to fight police corruption.

Despite being sympathetic to the challenges of war and reform, both Krapyvin and Kobzin argue that the overall ineffectiveness of Ukraine’s police reform is due to its failure to address greater systemic issues — specifically, those within the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the criminal justice system.

“In defense of the old Ukrainian Militsiya, it [was] overly demonized when the new police was being implemented.” Former militia recruits likely joined the police for the right reasons only to fall victim to a corrupt system.

“Most of them do not want to abuse [their power] or partake in corruption schemes, they just want to serve and protect. But the system changed them. It’s the same for officers of the new patrol police. Those who do not want to bend to the system quit.”

Missed Opportunities and Next Steps

The reform process should have started with an independent and transparent audit process to calculate a reasonable budget for the police sector at the parliamentary level. “That would help us understand where the system is failing us and where it might be about to fail us.” Such an audit was only carried out in the Lviv region, where police reform has, in his words, “achieved the most success.” 

An audit would clear the way for much-needed decentralization in Ukraine’s law enforcement. “If the head of the police is from Kyiv, he will be looking to fulfil the expectations of his Kyiv-based leadership […] The pyramid is built where everyone has their eyes set on the [Ukrainian] capital, while they should be looking at ordinary citizens living [all over Ukraine].”

“Everyone knows that complaining about the police to the police is a waste of time. You can also complain to the prosecutor’s office but that’s a vicious circle. IIt’s a closed system; it personally deals with the complaints about itself.”

Because the system is so interconnected, reforms to law enforcement are practically impossible without reforms to the judicial system.

Furthermore, many still question whether or not the Chief of the National Police is truly independent of politics. But when asked about his recent meetings with the President to respond to a protest encampment outside the Ukrainian parliament, the chief remained evasive.

“I have repeatedly participated in various meetings, both in the Cabinet and with the President,” And as for these insinuations, I’m not interested in talking about that. Maybe you need to ask society about this — how independent is the head of the police.”

Ahead of Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary elections the issue of police reforms remains critical. And changes to the patrol police provide some hope for further developments. 

The future of Ukraine’s law enforcement reforms remains unclear. “Police reform is a slow-going reform and we really don’t know the direction of this reform. [The] police don’t have any policy, any strategy [or] any document in this sphere on how to reform.”






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