Public Experiences of Police Violence and Corruption in Contemporary Russia: A Case of Predatory Policing?

By Gerber, Theodore P.; Mendelson, Sarah E. | Law & Society Review, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Public Experiences of Police Violence and Corruption in Contemporary Russia: A Case of Predatory Policing?


Gerber, Theodore P., Mendelson, Sarah E., Law & Society Review


"Predatory policing" occurs where police officers mainly use their authority to advance their own material interests rather than to fight crime or protect the interests of elites. These practices have the potential to seriously compromise the public's trust in the police and other legal institutions, such as courts. Using data from six surveys and nine focus groups conducted in Russia, we address four empirical questions: (1) How widespread are public encounters with police violence and police corruption in Russia? (2) To what extent does exposure to these two forms of police misconduct vary by social and economic characteristics? (3) How do Russians perceive the police, the courts, and the use of violent methods by the police? (4) How, if at all, do experiences of police misconduct affect these perceptions? Our results suggest that Russia conforms to a model of predatory policing. Despite substantial differences in its law enforcement institutions and cultural norms regarding the law, Russia resembles the United States in that direct experiences of police abuse reduce confidence in the police and in the legal system more generally. The prevalence of predatory policing in Russia has undermined Russia's democratic transition, which should call attention to the indispensable role of the police and other public institutions in the success of democratic reforms.

Social scientific studies of relations between the police, the state, and society have a long and rich tradition within the United States and the United Kingdom, and the last several decades have witnessed the growth of a comparative policing literature (Cain 1993; Bayley 1999; Mawby 1999; Caparini & Marenin 2004). We contribute to this literature by examining the prevalence, patterns, and consequences of public experiences of police violence and police corruption in contemporary Russia. Scholars, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have suggested that police violence and corruption have become rampant in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. They have documented the forms that police misconduct takes, proposed explanations for why it has grown more frequent, and considered possible measures that might be taken to combat it. But these accounts rely largely on anecdotes, case studies, official data, localized investigations, and interviews rather than standard social science methods, and they do not derive broader theoretical insights from the Russian case. We seek to advance both empirical and theoretical understanding of police misconduct in Russia by analyzing data from six large sample surveys and from nine focus groups.

We address four empirical questions: (1) How widespread are public encounters with police violence and police corruption in Russia? (2) To what extent does exposure to these two forms of police misconduct vary by social and economic characteristics? (3) How do Russians perceive the police, the courts, and the use of violent methods by the police? (4) How, if at all, do experiences of police misconduct affect these perceptions? Given the quality of our data, our empirical findings provide a useful benchmark against which future social scientific studies of police misconduct in Russia can be measured.

Our empirical findings have three broader theoretical implications for social and political perspectives on police misconduct. Most important, the Russian pattern of police misconduct suggests a model of policing that has not been formally identified in the comparative policing literature: predatory policing. Policing can best be described as predatory where police activities are mainly (not to say exclusively) devoted to the personal enrichment and selfpreservation of the police themselves rather than the protection of the public or the systematic repression of subordinate groups. No police force in the world is completely free of corruption and violent abuse by officers in its ranks. Under predatory policing both forms of misconduct are not only widespread-the rule rather than the exception-but they are also motivated primarily by the interests of the police themselves, not the interests of other elites. …

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