In the chilling pre-dawn hours of the 14th of January, 2020, a residential complex in the Russian region of Kemerovo reverberated with spine-chilling screams of terror. A distraught neighbor, dread coiling like a serpent in their stomach, hurriedly dialed the police to relay the disturbing incident that seemed to be unfolding – a woman seemingly under brutal attack.
As the screams continued to echo, reinforced by the petrifying sound of heavy blows and desperate pleas for help, a flurry of calls to emergency services ensued. Six, to be exact. Yet, no flashing sirens or uniformed officers punctuated the night.
Tormented by the silence of law enforcement and driven by mounting fear of the unspeakable, the neighbors made a courageous decision. They descended upon the apartment, breaking down the door in a desperate effort to intervene. But within, silence reigned — the screams had ceased and the woman lay lifeless.
A disclaimer to the sensitive reader: what follows may be distressing.
The neglected calls for assistance had proven costly. Vera Pekhteleva had been subjected to a savage attack. Stabbed repeatedly, battered, and finally succumbed to strangulation by an iron cord. The perpetrator of this grotesque crime was none other than her ex-boyfriend, who had terrorized her continuously for over three painstakingly long hours.
Examining the details of this tragic incident, the police initially excused their flagrant absence, stating that there were no patrol cars in the area at that moment. However, the eventual findings saw five police officers held culpacious for death through neglect. Their sentence was leniency itself — 18 months in prison, suspended for two years — justified as an acknowledgment of the operational challenges within “the whole force” due to officer shortages.
It is a paradox indeed, as Russia boasts one of the global giants in terms of police force size, with over 900,000 officers serving the country’s sprawling population of 146 million. This represents a staggering ratio of almost 630 officers for every 100,000 citizens, a figure that dwarfs that of the US and the UK. And yet, according to Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Chief of the Interior Ministry, Russia is confronting a “critical” shortage in police officers, a gap that may ignite a surge in crime rates.
So, how is such a paradox possible?
Insight into this puzzling discrepancy reveals the multifaceted challenges faced by the force. The sweeping geography of Russia and the deficiency in auxiliary staff certainly play a part. However, a significant portion of the problem can be traced back to a precipitous decrease in policeworkers – many being seasoned officers.
Departed Russian officers confessed to the BBC that the lure of less stressful, better-paying jobs proved too powerful. As one former officer from Rostov explained, “After inflation and the new prices, it’s not enough.” He subsequently turned to taxi driving, a vocation where, along with his ex-officer friend turned courier, he now earns twice as much as he used to.
With fewer officers remaining, the toll on their shoulder expands. This, former officers say, can lead to corruption and myriad wicked practices to meet the demands.
As the deficiency in staff continues to deepen, the stakes grow ever higher, with some officers engaging in criminal acts and consequently thinning the force even further. A perfect example of this is Sergei, who spent six years on the force before being incarcerated for assaulting a drug dealer. Serge also recounts that such were the force’s sparse resources that he himself funded essential work equipments.
As the corrosive implications of this acute shortage continue to corrode the backbone of the Russian police force, individuals and public safety are compromised. One former officer disclosed that there’s been a void for ages. Since he joined the team in 2015, only two new recruits have filled the uniform while fifteen walked out.
Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine further strains the police force, preventing it from replenishing its staff. Some officers cling to their jobs to avoid being summoned for military service, while others succumb to the pressures, resulting in fewer officers on the streets of Russia.
Finally, the freedom of officers to express their views about the war is heavily restricted. They are charged with suppressing personal views about the “special military operation” and warned of being relieved of duty in case of disobedience. Additionally, the war has increased their workload. Drowning in added paperwork, some officers report spending most of their time processing “endless charges against people discrediting the army”.
This grim picture offers a distinct window into Russia’s ongoing struggle: the rampant officer shortage, the festering corruption, and the knock-on effects on crime rates and public safety. Regrettably, it seems the dire predictions of that former officer from Tomsk are proving accurate: “Kidnap, robbery, rape, murder… there won’t be time to investigate.”