MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday he had signed new laws to “tighten the screws” on corrupt police after a wave of beatings and murders blamed on them in recent months caused a groundswell of anger.
Medvedev has named the reform of the country’s powerful law-enforcement bodies as one of his top priorities, but his efforts have failed to stem an almost daily flow of reports of police abuse in the national media.
“When the system is not working as it should — and such conclusions are being made about the interior ministry — it is necessary to tighten the screws,” Medvedev told Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev at a Kremlin meeting.
The new laws will ban anyone with a criminal record from serving in the police, even if that record was later struck from the books. Refusing to obey the orders of a superior officer is now a criminal offence, he said.
The measures will increase the police force’s “accountability to the people and the country,” Medvedev said.
The reputation of the police has suffered from a series of scandals, including the shooting dead of three people last year by a former police district chief in a supermarket firing spree that has been repeated endlessly on state television.
Days after a drunk Moscow police officer beat a man to death last year, Nurgaliyev said people should be permitted to hit back at police who attack them without cause.
Investigators announced on Thursday that five police officers had been arrested in St. Petersburg for membership of a gang that killed people to seize their apartments, and expensive cars and diamonds were seized from the officers.
Major changes to the main law governing the police are being finalized, Medvedev told Nurgaliyev at the meeting.
Earlier this year Medvedev said his police reform plan would include a 20 percent cut in the staff of the 1.4-million member Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police.
“The problem of the police is a question of confidence. The confidence of people in the police, and no less important the confidence of the police in their service,” Medvedev said in a Twitter posting on Thursday.
But Kremlin critics say Medvedev’s promises to fight corruption and improve the rule of law have had little practical effect since he was steered into the presidency by Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, in 2008.
Editing by Tim Pearce