What are you interested in?

Three years of the National Police Law: the history of success and resistance of the system

Criminal justice /
Bodies of Criminal Justice

Oleksandr Banchuk, the expert of the Centre of Policy and Legal Reform analysed the major changes, achievements and failures of law enforcement reform in Ukraine.

Public demand for radical changes in the system of law enforcement agencies in Ukraine exists already for a number of years. The Revolution of Dignity only testified to their relevance, especially in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Public discussions of that period resulted in a number of specific indicators (requirements) to the process of reforming the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In particular:

  • clear structure and clearly defined powers of the police;
  • absence of political influence on the activities of the police;
  • transparent competitive selection of candidates for police;
  • objective and independent consideration of disciplinary cases against the police;
  • legal regulation of the procedure for the use of enforcement measures and weapons by the police.

Many of these requirements became the provisions of the National Police Law adopted on July 2, 2015. To add this, on October 7, 2018, a new Disciplinary Statute of the National Police entered into force, which should ensure a transparent consideration of disciplinary complaints about police officers.

One of the major changes is the institutional separation of the police from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The police became separate from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which enabled the implementation of an important European principle – the depoliticization of the police. Another advantage is the consolidation at the level of the law of the application procedure of non-lethal weapons and equipment. In addition, the police became one of the pioneers among law enforcement agencies in introducing competitive recruitment procedures.

The law provided for a new form of public control over the police activities – police commissions, which consist of representatives of the public for 40%. There are currently 84 committees throughout the country working on a competition for police service. Unfortunately, only the new comers are brought to their attention, since the police leadership closes the promotion (upgrading) procedure from the society control. Inability to globally influence the personnel policy of the National Police partly offsets this public control instrument.

At the same time, for three years in a row the Parliament was failing to correct the provisions of the law, which every day create risks of possible violations of human rights and freedoms and do not meet European standards. Experts of the Council of Europe are concerned with an unregulated procedure of the formation and maintenance by the National Police of a number of databases. Indeed, uncontrolled and unlimited storage of information may result in the use of collected data for illegal purposes. A lot of criticism was also expressed about the police’s powers for checking documents, interviewing individuals and some aspects of the use of special non-lethal weapons and firearms.

Formation of a patrol police (instead of a liquidated Vehicle Inspection and Post Service) in 2015 was the first practical step in reforming the system. On the background of total distrust in the law enforcement system, the society perceived this measure with a common upsurge. In a short time, thousands of young people were recruited, trained and sent to the first patrol, and most of them did not have many years of work experience in the spoiled system. These units are still the most successful achievement in reforming the police.

Unlike the patrol service, a decision was taken to form other police units by involving the old staff after passing through re-attestation. The justification for such a decision was that it was impossible to open competitions for tens of thousands of positions in a short time. However, due to gaps in the legislation, in the relevant instructions, as well as due to the position of the leadership of the Ministry, the results of re-attestation are disappointing: only 7.7% of former policemen did not pass it. Moreover, this figure does not take into account the large number of people who subsequently resumed their positions on the basis of court decisions.

Criminal police sector did not undergo any significant changes either in the staffing structure or in the system of work. Certain hopes for the progress in this area relied on a common project with the EU on the creation of joint detective units that would help to make the investigation more effective. However, the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the police decided to choose another way: instead of consolidating the investigation units, to divide them and create separate departments of inquiry. This is evidenced by the provisions of the draft law on criminal offenses, which were criticized by the experts of the Council of Europe.

In the meanwhile, Ukrainian roads did not become safer. According to statistics, road accidents take more people’s lives than an armed aggression by the Russian Federation in the East. The reason is the lack of automatic video and photo control for traffic violations. The relevant law on road safety was approved by Parliament in July 2015, but the system of fixing violations is still not working. The Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to work on the preparation of the required by-laws, certification of control devices and deployment of the system throughout the country.

The same failure was the Ministry of Internal Affairs's efforts in the area of ​​introducing a new procedure for assessing the level of public confidence in the police. The law provided for the replacement of the traditional Soviet system of statistical indicators into a system where the public's trust in the police is the main criterion for assessing the effectiveness of its activities. The number of proceedings that were registered, transferred to the court and closed, or disclosed crimes should not remain the determining factor for assessing the work of the police. However, only on February 7, 2018, the relevant Procedure was approved. So, it took the MIA almost 2.5 years to prepare it. All this time the police had a traditional performance evaluation model.

In summary, it has already become clear that unfortunately the police reform did not turn to be an instant success story, despite all opportunities and legislative conditions in place.

Oleksandr Banchuk 
Source: Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels