POLICE IN KYRGYZSTAN

POLICE AND SECURITY FORCES IN KYRGYZSTAN

The main law enforcement agencies are the Ministry of Internal Affairs (for general crime), the National Security Service (for state-level crime), and the national prosecutor’s office, which prosecutes all types of crime. All police forces are under civilian authority. Police, who are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have been used to disrupt political demonstrations. The violent demonstrations of 2002 brought about a police reform program aimed at improving public perceptions of a force known for taking bribes, criminal ties, and violence and plagued by low pay. However, in 2005 many cases of police malfeasance still were reported. About 25,000 regular police were active in 2005. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007]

General and local crimes fall under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while national-level crimes fall under the authority of the GKNB. The GKNB also controls the presidential security service. The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecutes both local and state crimes. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

The national police force, or militzia, is underpaid and understaffed, so bribes and invented fines are common. Corruption and nepotism are widespread. Corruption and incompetence in the police force have led to uncontrolled crime in urban parts of Kyrgyzstan. In 2005 and 2006, the Bakiyev government came under increased criticism for failing to control criminal organizations as incidents of violent crime increased.

Police Activities in Kyrgyzstan

According to the OSAC: “Police and security forces are poorly paid, poorly equipped, and often corrupt. The quality of police service may vary significantly, and one must usually speak Russian or Kyrgyz to converse with local authorities. Police officers rarely speak English. [Source: “Kyrgyzstan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State <<<]

Vehicle and pedestrian stops of local nationals and foreigners are not uncommon. Travelers are advised to have the proper identity documents or a copy of their passport and visa with them at all times and to cooperate with police authorities if stopped for questioning. All visitors are required to register with the local authorities. In most cases the hotel will register guests, but it is a good idea to confirm this occurred because this is the main reason pedestrians are stopped and questioned. <<<

The Kyrgyz equivalent of the GAI (Russian traffic police) is the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The MIA is primarily responsible for the prevention and investigation of crime. Because of Kyrgyzstan's economic difficulties, funding for these activities has dropped since independence. Organized crime and drug trafficking are considered the most high-profile crimes, and this is where Kyrgyzstan's crime prevention resources are being utilized. [Source: everyculture.com]

Development of the Kyrgyzstan Security Forces in the 1990s

In 1991 President Askar Akayev abolished the Kyrgyzstan branch of the KGB and replaced it with the State Committee for National Security, whose role subsequently was prescribed in a 1992 law. In 1996 the armed force of the committee, the National Guard, was an elite force of 1,000 recruited from all national groups in Kyrgyzstan. Organized in two battalions, the National Guard has been commanded since its inception by a Kyrgyz general; the chief of the border troops also is under that commander. The National Guard has the prescribed function of protecting the president and government property and assisting in natural disasters; except under exceptional circumstances, its role does not include maintenance of domestic order. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

President Akayev vowed to crack down on crime in the mid-1990s, proposing much stiffer penalties for common crimes, including life imprisonment for auto theft. One sign of his seriousness was the replacement in January 1995 of the entire senior staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The new minister, the Kyrgyz Modolbek Moldashev, served in the Soviet KGB and lived most of his life outside the republic. When he took office, Moldashev brought in his own people from the State Committee for National Security and the Ministry of Defense. However, it is far from clear that Kyrgyzstan's security organizations are capable of cracking down on the drug-driven sector of the economy, and experts predict that if narcotics escape control, the spiral of criminal activities will continue to grow. *

In April 1995, the national power company shut off power to the Central Police Force headquarters for nonpayment of electric bills, leaving the capital without even emergency police service for five hours. The poor equipment of the police further hampers their ability to respond to crimes. Police personnel frequently have been implicated in crime. Nearly 700 police were caught in the commission of crimes in the two months after President Akayev replaced the entire administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1995. *

Structure of the Kyrgyzstan Police Force

Kyrgyzstan’s police system is largely unchanged from the Soviet era. Still called "militia," the police are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A force estimated at 25,000 individuals, the militia was commanded by the Central Police Force in Bishkek in the 1990s. The republic's police suffered the same large-scale resignations because of low pay and bad working conditions as have other former Soviet republics lacking resources to support internal security.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement agency, like those of other post-Soviet states, is structured and operates on the basis of its Soviet legacy. The police is more centralized, as compared to the United States, where police are decentralized into state and local agencies. The structure of the system is workable, but the public’s perception has progressively worsened over last 20 years of independence. It sees law enforcement to be part of the corrupt state machine, not as an agency designed to protect people from crime. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“In Kyrgyzstan, district police officers tend to be younger, recently graduated officers with a lack of experience about how to cooperate effectively with people. Older officers are available to teach and mentor them, but in general the “Mentor Institution” that worked during Soviet times does not work properly today. A non-transparent way of assigning officers serves as one of the major challenges to selecting properly qualified officers for departments. In fact, the non-transparent character of choosing and assigning officers and the work of Human Resource Department of Interior Ministry is the one that should be reformed first in order to make better improvements to the police system.” /=\

Corruption and Problems with the Police in Kyrgyzstan

Officials have been known to solicit bribes in the course of their official duties to supplement their insufficient incomes. Government corruption and malfeasance also contribute to an atmosphere of lawlessness. In the mid-1990s, bribery, kickbacks, and influence peddling became increasingly common in government agencies. Law enforcement officials have received little cooperation from legislators in punishing their colleagues who are caught violating the law. In 1993 the Interregional Investigative Unit, established to combat bribery, found itself shut down after twenty successful investigations and replaced by an economic crimes investigation unit, some members of which began taking bribes themselves. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Arrests for lack of proper identification documents were common. Police frequently used false charges to arrest persons and then solicited bribes in exchange for release. In May the GKNB arrested four police officers for engaging in a scheme in which they would accuse a foreigner of attempting to rape a police-planted prostitute and then demand bribes to drop the charges. Police often physically and verbally abused individuals who were unable to pay. Attorneys and human rights activists regularly discussed the system of bribes that arrestees had to pay to secure their release. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “The greatest harm to the image of the police in Kyrgyzstan is caused by police becoming involved in criminal activities, very often by protecting and serving as a “roof” for various criminals, mostly covering for drug trafficking and prostitution. Some police officers may have close ties with leaders of organized crime groups. These images create a pessimistic mood among the public about the police’s potential for fighting crime. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

Following the 2010 violence, international observers noted law enforcement officials engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, detainee abuse, and extortion, particularly in the South. Authorities dismissed or prosecuted few Ministry of Internal Affairs officials for corruption, abuse of authority, extortion, or police brutality. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the office reviewed 242 complaints of illegal actions by police officers during the first half of the year. Based on these complaints, authorities opened 10 criminal cases. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

See Human Rights

Police and Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “For decades, the primary role of law enforcement agencies in Kyrgyzstan was to prevent and solve common crimes. During the Soviet period, the agencies faced a familiar enemy—organized crime that was hierarchically organized, included a defined role for every member, and unwritten, but strictly followed, rules and traditions. However, with time came new threats, including the “radicalized organized crime” which resulted from post-Soviet socio-economic problems. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Organized crime can be defeated by law enforcement, but facing “radicalized organized crime” seems a much more daunting task, one further complicated by current financial, technological, and political conditions. As organized crime in Kyrgyzstan is also intertwined with political power, it has penetrated into every level of government and parliament. All attempts of the powers-that-be have failed to solve these issues of crime, extremism, and corruption, or to address other social and economic grievances through the reform of state agencies. For example, attempts at reforming the court system, which plays a crucial role in establishing rule of law, have brought little success. /=\

“In Kyrgyzstan, as in other post-Soviet states, terrorism and extremism have always been a focus of the State Committee of National Security—the state intelligence agency. However, the Interior Ministry, including the National Police, has historically been one of the strongest state executive agencies in the government, and is responsible for ensuring law and order throughout the country. In the light of the growing threat of “radicalized organized crime,” the need is great for the joint involvement of, and close cooperation between, the two agencies that are responsible for security issues. /=\

Obstacles Combating Organized Crime in Kyrgyzstan

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: The police in Kyrgyzstan are largely demoralized, under-funded and undertrained. In the environment of corruption and lack of the rule of law in these Central Asian countries, sufficient training and funding may not be enough to raise police competency. For example, in 2001, while Kyrgyzstan remained a key location for drug trafficking, only “fourteen narcotics officers [were] responsible for the entire city of Bishkek [capital of Kyrgyzstan], where a quarter of the country’s 4 million people live.” [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Police chiefs have complained about the ineffectiveness of laws to combat organized crime. Georgia and Russia have laws that allow the authorities to apprehend known organized crime leaders based on their known criminal rank, but no such law exists in Kyrgyzstan. A new law for combating organized crime was passed by the Kyrgyz Parliament and endorsed by the President in May 2013. This law made changes and additions that have created better conditions for effectively combating organized crime. /=\

“Individuals suspected of being part of organized crime rings can now be targeted with preventive measures such as: official warnings; placement on a preventive registration in police agencies; obligations enforced by court decision; and background checks can be ordered on finances and property to discover unlawful connections. A court order is required for all preventive measures except the official warning, which is issued upon the decision of the Head of the Department for Combating Organized Crime. The effectiveness of these measures will depend on how they are put into practice, which may be limited by the technical and material capabilities of units combating organized crime.” /=\

Kyrgyzstan Police and Terrorism

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “Department 10 of the Ministry is tasked with combating terrorism and extremism. It was abolished for a short period after the 2010 coup, when it was accused of gathering information on individuals for political rather than crime-related purposes. Many developed countries are pursuing counter-terrorism strategies through the whole-of-government approach. There are not enough financial and human resources in Kyrgyzstan to implement this, but some attempts have been made in this direction. A strategic plan launched by the government involved all law enforcement agencies, NGOs, religious institutes, and other state agencies. But a lack of financing, of technical support, and of qualified experts in theology caused this joint approach to be abandoned. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“Despite the threat of growing religious extremism, law enforcement agencies still suffers from a lack of well-trained personnel in this specific area, as well as from a lack of technological support. As little training is provided in identifying extremists, patrol-level police may stop and frisk any suspicious person based on appearance, which causes a backlash from among mainstream Muslim society. /=\

“Police are responsible for the first response to a terrorist attack, so their role will remain significant. But Kyrgyz police have no advanced technology to access information databases in order to determine the criminal history of a suspected individual instantly, a capacity that most American patrols have installed in their police cars. Patrol officers have to memorize or keep a printed (and often blurred) picture of suspected individuals. Today, the Interior Ministry database system contains files of more than 1,700 extremists, but it cannot maintain an accurate picture of them, because many followers of extremist organizations remain out of view. The analytical team of Department 10 feels that it has a dearth of well-qualified, knowledge-based experts in theology able to qualitatively process and work with extant and new data pertaining to religious terrorists, extremist organizations, and their members. /=\

“Kelling and Bratton depict three key American police methods in the war on terrorism that seem even more applicable in the case of Kyrgyzstan. First, police can be trained in problem-solving techniques that will make them effective first preventers of terrorism. Second, Kyrgyzstan can use similar technologies to those used by American police to enhance data sharing and to catalyze intelligence-led counterterrorist policing. Finally, and most vitally, the theory of order maintenance commonly called "broken windows," which police in New York City have used so successfully in the war on crime, can be adapted for the war on terror. /=\

“With an increased technical ability at their disposal, Kyrgyz police could work more effectively. But patrol police officers in Kyrgyzstan often approach counter terrorism/extremism activity with a “take-them-out” mindset. Police officers who are temperamentally suited to community policing need to be left in place long enough to gain the trust of the community and to become familiar faces in their neighborhoods.” /=\

Improving the Kyrgyzstan Police Force?

Chyngyz Kambarov wrote in Voices from Central Asia: “The Interior Ministry needs more qualified personnel... Western police methods like community policing and intelligence-led policing could be successfully implemented within Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies. A program similar to community policing has been in place since the Soviet period, which worked quite successfully at one time. The duties of “district police officers” are very similar to community policing. For example, as Kelling and Bratton state: “Local police officers have an everyday presence in the communities that they are sworn to protect. They are in a better position to know responsible leaders in the Islamic and Arabic communities and can reach out to them for information or help in developing informants.” The success of community policing depends on the level of people’s trust in the police, and requires that the district police officer is seen as a protector of residents, and as serving the people. [Source: Chyngyz Kambarov PhD, Lieutenant Colonel of Police of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Voices from Central Asia, No. 20, January 2015 /=\]

“The Kyrgyz people used to have a positive image of “Uncle Styopa”—the police officer whom people trusted and admired—but this was erased with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many qualified police officers have since retired, and those who remain face corruption, nepotism, moral degradation, criminals joining the police force, and the widespread abuse of power by police. This has created a feeling of “us vs. them” between the police and the public. Unprofessional behavior by many police officers in Kyrgyzstan and their attitude toward ordinary people has become an impediment to any reform of its law enforcement agencies. /=\

“Some of the community-policing practices that are directed toward counter-terrorism in the United States would be applicable to the Kyrgyz police too. For example, gathering information through community policing has advantages over traditional intelligence work. Specifically it avoids: (a) Undermining community trust through the compiling of unsubstantiated lists of suspects; (b) charges of profiling, phone-tapping and the legal and political encumbrances thereof; (c) the costly and unproductive surveillance of suspects and places; and (d) secret—and therefore suspect—operations and entrapment.” /=\

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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