In the Independent press-centre DEMOS Centre presented its new book “Police Between Russia and Chechnya. Veterans of the Conflict in Russian Society” to journalists and the public.
The book is based on the materials of a complex study “Chechen Veterans in Modern Russia”. The research was carried out in five regions of Russia (Adygei, Komi, Tver region, Nizhny Novgorod region and Altai region) by specialists of Demos Center and the expert network of the Center in Russian regions. A number of profound expert interviews were made with police officers and wives of veterans. Heads of police stations, police psychologists and leaders of veteran organizations also took part in the research.
Major research conclusions show that the existing rehabilitation system for veterans and their families can not cope with the problems arising from “hot spot” experience. The rehabilitation system is not targeted at solving real problems of the veterans. It does not provide for professional re-integration, superficially deals with social adaptation, does not involve work with veterans’ families, and substitutes real psychological assistance for tests and short-term mental correction.
The specific character of trips to Chechnya causes development of new professional experience that, in the opinion of police officers themselves, is not compatible with serving in “peaceful” Russian regions.
For half a year in Chechnya policemen live on an isolated protected base, they have almost no contacts with local population – these are the rules necessary to ensure safety of the personnel. By protecting police officers sent to Chechnya from other regions the officials establish such conditions that the police develop defensive mentality towards local people. Thus, policemen get the experience of opposing themselves to civilians. Chechnya dangerous environment makes the policemen be on guard all the time, be able to react quickly to any event, get accustomed to weapon and its usage. Police officers feel unsafe in any place and become extremely suspicious, and gradually the border between terrorists, regular delinquents and law-abiding citizens vanishes in their minds.
Chechnya experience modifies the structure of human values of policemen, highlights different priorities. “What is law? I know what’s going on in real life”, “the law decides nothing” – these are typical quotes that show the experience of law denial acquired by veterans in Chechnya.
The priority of survival eliminates the taboo for violence. Many policemen were engaged in acts of violence in Chechnya directly or indirectly, as a result, violence for them is not only a routine, they become psychologically resistant to it due to the effect of psychological protection mechanisms. On the one hand, this resistance can be professionally helpful in certain situations: police service is connected with hazards and life risks. On the other hand, being psychologically protected, they can easily exercise violence upon other people and themselves. The issues of police excess and suicide among Chechnya veterans are well-known to lawyers and the police authorities.
For many policemen rehabilitation is limited to a rehabilitation leave. Tasks facing police departments require that police officers return to work as soon as possible. It not an uncommon situation when policemen coming back from Chechnya start working immediately. The practice that policemen have to postpone their vacation shows that law enforcement needs are placed higher than rehabilitation of law enforcement staff.
Moreover, the existing rehabilitation procedure does not include professional retraining and reintegration. Any employee that is away from his office for half a year due to a business trip loses the skill of day-to-day operation within the department. He comes back to his office and sees new people their, the turnover rate in the police is very high, the legal base has also changed. All these factors taken together hamper professional adaptation and in extreme cases may lead to disqualification.
Police officers get used to protect themselves from the local population and after returning from Chechnya they still oppose themselves to civilians, thus enlarging the gap between the society and the police. They feel united on the basis of common “hot spot” experience which leads to growing social isolation. The skills of operation in normal conditions that are of no use in Chechnya are lost and may never be recovered just because veterans are not motivated to perform their professional duties in the context of emerging social isolation.
Veterans do not count on understanding of their problems by the civilians and high-ranking police officials because they feel that the society does not trust them. The social status of veterans goes down, as a rule, and their social career is not successful because of unsolved financial, family, psychological problems. It’s difficult for policemen who served in hot spots to feel confident in the society if they fail to go back to normal life and be accepted by the society. This is the key obstacle that prevents formation of social partnership with the population that is a major factor in ensuring efficient law enforcement.