ALMATY -- Kazakhstan's ongoing police reforms are meant to ensure better working conditions and training for officers in an effort to improve public safety across the country.
As part of the reforms, thousands of positions at the Interior Ministry (MVD) will be cut to enable pay raises for remaining staff and to help defray housing costs for police officers, Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov said during a cabinet session October 8.
"We will review our staff head count, which we intend to decrease by 10% -- this means about 9,000 police officers and 1,600 employees in the Committee for Control of the Penitentiary System," he said. "We will use the savings ... to increase employees' salaries."
The government also needs to find ways to pay the housing rental costs for traffic police, neighbourhood inspectors and police officers who work with juveniles, he said.
The ministry intends to re-evaluate its personnel hiring system to increase the quality of police work, Kasymov said.
Improving police salaries, performance
The death of Olympic figure skater Denis Ten on July 19 gave the ministry the impetus to accelerate reforms, Amanzhol Mukhamedyarov, a lawyer with the Astana Bar Association, told Caravanserai.
The 25-year-old athlete, whom Kazakhs revered as first Kazakh figure skater to earn an Olympic medal, received a fatal stab wound when he tried to stop a pair of thieves from stealing the side mirrors of his car in Almaty.
Police later arrested two suspects who admitted their guilt, but not before social media users criticised the MVD and police for allowing crime to rise and demanded reforms.
Part of the problem is that police officers in Kazakhstan earn relatively little, leading to high turnover, analysts say.
To address the concerns, President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised the salaries for police officers by 25% in a July 2017 decree.
The base monthly pay for a junior sergeant has risen to 85,000 KZT ($230), while police lieutenants receive 130,000 KZT ($353) per month, according to information the Kostanay provincial police department provided to alau.kz.
But the problem is not only the money, Mukhamedyarov said.
"All you have to do is go into any district police station in Astana and you can see that young guys are working there under unbearable conditions," he said.
"Two police officers share one chair, and it is frightening to even think about what goes on out in the provinces."
Advancing professional skills
"I have come across many qualified specialists in the police who in terms of the scope of their knowledge, experience and qualifications are not inferior to judges and attorneys in any way," Mukhamedyarov said.
"But they don't stick around for long -- they gain experience and move on to become attorneys, pass the exams and become judges and prosecutors," he said.
It is also important to raise police officers' qualification through seminars and training sessions, he said.
They have much to learn, including from manners for dealing properly with the general public to regulations in the criminal and administrative offence codes, he said.
Such training does not require the expenditure of government funds, according to Mukhamedyarov.
"The MVD can co-operate with independent trainers and non-governmental organisations like the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe]," he said.
"My colleagues and I are ready to assist and help conduct educational work, if police departments have the desire," he said. "We frequently exchange experience with the prosecutor's office and the courts, and have already achieved some good results."
Optimising law enforcement
At the same time, the main job of many Kazakh police officers is to simply patrol the streets on foot, and they are not really needed, said Mukhamedyarov.
Reforms "could reduce the number of foot patrols, but along with that increase the number of video surveillance cameras on city streets", suggested Maj. (ret.) Oleg Gubaidulin of Almaty, a former police investigator.
However, the headcount in the ministry needs to be streamlined cautiously, he said, adding that 17% of all police officers serve as guards protecting diplomatic missions and key public facilities like dams and hydro-electric power plants.
"You can't fire these people, since private security guards walking around with nightsticks are not going to do this work," he told Caravanserai.
It is also undesirable to shrink the departments involved in investigations or in neighbourhood patrols, he added.
Gubaidulin suggested splitting traffic police and local police, since they serve different functions. Authorities need to draw the lines of division inside the MVD with caution, he said.