Encounters with the Russian Police
I find the Russian police intriguing. Before freaking out give me a chance to explain you! (as the Russians would say)
You need some background before I begin. All people in Russia must carry their papers with them. Papers include passport, visa, and Russian registration card. Police are allowed to stop you without cause and request your papers. Bribery is a way of life with the police. A minor offense may cost you 150 rub on the street. More serious offenses may be 1500 rub or so. Oh, and offenses are totally subjective to the police officer at the time! You don’t argue. Before starting on the project I knew that the previous PM here (he was Asian) had been stopped twice. The others on the project had never been questioned.
I’m out walking to Red Square on Saturday and am crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge. A wedding party is leaving, heading south, with a stretch limo leading the pack. One of the cars (the red one in the photo) has people leaning out the window waving flags. Russian local police see this, drive around the party, swerve in front of the stretch and slam on the brakes. This brings the wedding party to a halt. Two large police jump out and go back to the red car and do business.
That was encounter one.
Sunday, I got encounter number two after exiting the Lenin mausoleum. Ivor and I are walking past the Russian burial plots and we can’t make out the names of one or two. With me I have my small Canon camera. I think — hey let’s shoot the headstone and we can research the name later. Mind you there hasn’t been any visible signage stating that photographs are not allowed. Before my camera is even completely out the pocket a police guard is tapping me on the shoulder. “Come,” he says. Ivor and I step out of line. He points at me and in very clear English (the only English he speaks) says, “No photo. Leave camera at desk.” What desk? I want to ask. He asks for our papers. He sees that I don’t have a registration card and that agitates him, big time! (My registration card was still being prepared. I had only been in RU a few days.) He calls for additional police. Ivor and I aren’t communicating real well with him; we’re also wondering how much this will cost. I am apologizing profusely – sorry – in Russian. His comrades never come over, thankfully. He looks at me and once again reiterates the no photo policy and says “Go.” We go!
At the time it wasn’t funny. Now, looking back, it is quite humorous. Oh, and I get the record for shortest time in RU before being confronted by the police. Hopefully it will be my last.
Local police drive these old beater cars. Once I saw a local turn onto a main street and his car died. He sat in the middle of the intersection trying (unsuccessfully) to restart it. Once, at Red Square, I saw a local with the hood up. He was parked in the middle of the square. He also couldn’t get his vehicle started.
The polar opposite is the federal force. They drive (really) nice 5 and 7 series BMWs. If I ever become a police it will have to be with the RU federal force!
Update… 4 July – Here is another example that occurred yesterday here in Moscow. Local demonstrators were protesting the RU Sochi bid for the Olympics. This is from the Moscow Times:
[The rally was] quiet, that is, until protester Alexander Izotkin donned a rubber mask of President Vladimir Putin and scraped along the cement on his cross-country skis up to the Mayakovsky monument on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, a show that angered the handful of police officers on duty.
Police immediately rushed into the crowd, with one burly officer ripping the Putin mask off Izotkin’s head and detaining him, while other officers ordered demonstrators to disperse, despite the fact that they had permission from City Hall to hold the rally.
“They have permission to picket, not for a theatrical performance,” one officer, who was trying pull a banner from a protester’s hands, said when asked why a sanctioned rally was being broken up.