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Monitoring of Unlawful Violence in Ukrainian Police

30.08.11 | Denys Kobzin

(Sociological surveys 2004 – 2010)

Denys Kobzin,

Kharkiv Institute for Social Researches,

Director, PhD in Sociology

The monitoring survey of changing dynamics of torture and ill-treatment in 2010 is demonstrating that the country’s population, like before, apprehends it as a widely prevalent phenomenon. Moreover, survey results clearly demonstrate that the society is definitely able to express its opinion: the number of respondents with unidentified position concerning the scale of unlawful violence in Ukrainian police decreased (from 33 % in 2009 to 27.6 % in 2010). There is also a decreasing number of respondents thinking that unlawful violence in Ukrainian police is not prevalent — no more than 14 %.

Fig. 1 Distribution of answers to the question: «How prevalent is unlawful violence in police nowadays? »

The result of such tendencies is the increasing number of respondents thinking that unlawful violence is prevalent: their number rose by 10% to 58%. Thus, today more than every other citizen of the country adheres to this view (see Figure 1).  


Let us note that the attitudes of Ukrainian people to their local police are negative as well (Fig.2). Thus, estimating the prevalence of unlawful violence of local police, respondents have hardly changed their views in comparison with 2009. The number of respondents who believe that unlawful violence is prevalent and the number of those who find it difficult to answer slightly increased (by 0.4% and 0.2% respectively). This is explained by the decreased number of Ukrainians, who indicated that unlawful violence was not typical for their local police.

Fig. 2 Distribution of the answers to the question: "In your opinion, what is the prevalence of unlawful violence (beatings, torture) in your local police nowadays? »

Evaluating the results of the study, it is difficult to speak of any significant tendencies as they are virtually absent. One proof of this is the absence of changes in the opinions of Ukrainians as to the dynamics in the situation with unlawful violence in police. As in the period of 2004-2009, 2010 data show that almost half of respondents (48.4%) find it difficult to assess whether the situation has changed in any way. Just over a quarter of respondents (26.9%) indicate that the situation remained unchanged.

Another estimate of the scale of unlawful violence in police is given by the police officers themselves. The survey shows that, in assessing the extent of the prevalence of physical and mental violence in Ukrainian police today, police officers are less inclined to believe that such facts are present. Thus, a comparison of responses in 2004, 2009 and 2010 shows a steady decline in the number of affirmative answers. While in 2004 35% of respondents admitted that such facts exist, by 2009 their number decreased to 24% and in 2010 - to 20.3%. It may be also noted that the number of officers who find it difficult to answer this question is decreasing. In 2010 they comprised a third of all respondents (33.9%),  whereas previously, this category was not less than 40%.

Thus, every year the number of police officers who believe that torture and unlawful violence in the Ukrainian police is not present is going up. In 2004 it was 25% of the respondents, in 2009 - 35% and by 2010 their number increased to 45.8%.

However, we should note that the vast majority of prisoners and ex-police officers (79.1%) stated that police violence is common (58.8% - "very common" and 20.3% - "rather common").

If we compare these figures with the responses of police officers, we can see significant differences. This differences in the recognition of the prevalence of physical and mental abuse by the police is quite striking, as well as the fact that the majority of police officers could not definitely say that such facts were nonpresent in the law enforcement bodies. 

Of particular interest are the phenomena that are directly related to the facts of unlawful violence in police. They include the limitation of the guaranteed rights of detainees, in particular the right to inform a third party of their detention, the right to medical care, as well as the obligation to immediate draw up a detention report. By the way, the latter determines the duty of police officers to satisfy the demands of detainees for the implementation of the rights mentioned above. On the other hand, failure to draw up a protocol or do it in time leads to a rejection of medical care provision and the right to call, because this way people do not formally receive the status of detainees, and sometimes are not registered in police blotters.

In contrast to the currently working of policemen, former police officers who are serving sentences in prisons largely recognize that they have seen some violations in the bodies of internal affairs, such as late writing of protocols of detention, failure to provide suspects with the chance to inform a third party and undergo a medical examination, as well as with incidents of violence by police against suspects, detainees and the accused (Table 1).

Table 1 Recognition of imprisoned former police officers and working policemen of the existence of the following rights violations (in% of those who responded)

Have you encountered the following violations of the rights of suspects and detainees at the police offices?

Prisoners (former police officers)

Police officers

Delays in drawing up protocols



Deprivation of the right to inform a third party



Failure to provide medical care



The use of unlawful violence



It is indicative that the number of former policemen who had experienced cases of unlawful violence in the police bodies in their practice (78.7%) is entirely comparable with the number of victims of physical violence during the detention among prisoners, according to the survey of 2009 (73.5%). This indicates a high prevalence of this problem as declared by both ex-policemen, who did not hide these facts any more, and victims of the police.

These research data support this thesis and show the same prevalence and substantial connection between failure to draw up a protocol in time and further use of unlawful violence. For example, police officers, who faced untimely arrest reporting earlier (18.1%),  and this year (8.0%),  witnessed unlawful violence later on (18.2% and 7.8% respectively). Less common violations are failure to provide medical care and failure to inform a third party.

According to the survey, only 17.2% of inmates (former police officers) said that a police report was made immediately, in 51% of cases a protocol was drawn up after an unreasonably long period of time (from 3 to more than 12 hours) and 7% of respondents did not see the report drown up at all.

An overwhelming majority of interviewed prisoners (former police officers) were not explained their rights at the arrest (70.8%). In addition, 63.4% suffered from violations of the right to inform third parties about the detention. Only 23.7% of the detainees were explained their right to legal aid (including free assistance), and only 17% were able to obtain free legal assistance.

Among the interviewed prisoners (former police officers), 29.0% suffered from violations of the law on the term of stay at the police station without indictment (namely,  Art 106 of the Criminal Procedure Code), since they stood before the court in more than 72 hours after the arrest.

As before, the risk of being subjected to unlawful violence on the part of the internal affairs officers is particularly high during the detention and investigation. The monitoring in 2010 has not confirmed last year’s trend, when the number of injuries at the stage of arrest decreased. This trend is no longer seen in 2010.

It’s sad but true: police officers become the victims of unlawful violence themselves immediately after they receive the status of detainees and suspects. Among the types of unlawful physical violence used during the pretrial investigation, prisoners (former police officers) often referred to the infliction of injuries (53.7%),   torture with the use of special tools and techniques (48.9%) and failure to provide medical care (33 , 0%). According to the detainees (former police), almost in half of all cases (48.6   %) they experienced prolonged detention in inappropriate places (in cars, offices, corridors, basements, etc.). Roughly the same number of detainees faced the excessive use of special equipment (42.2%), and in 34.1% of cases detainees were beaten and inflicted physical injuries. Approximately one quarter (25.4%) of respondents said that unlawful violence during their arrest and transpiration to the police station was not applied to them.

As in the monitoring in 2004 and 2009, we assessed the prevalence and dynamics of unlawful violence in the internal affairs bodies across the country. To do this, we calculated the estimated number of victims by extrapolating the results of the study to the entire adult population of Ukraine. The percentage of victims of a particular type of unlawful violence in the bodies of internal affairs was taken of the total number of adult (over 18) population of Ukraine. The results of this extrapolation, unfortunately, are not encouraging: the estimated number of victims of unlawful violence by the police in 2010 amounted to some 790 000 people (Table 2-3)

To compare, the estimated number of victims of unlawful violence in the police bodies in 2004-2009 amounted to 1.3195 million,  but then a five-year period was assessed. In addition, this means that in 2010 every 40 seconds there was a fact of unlawful violence on the part of the police.

Table 2 Estimated numbers of victims of unlawful physical violence in the bodies of internal affairs of Ukraine in the period of 2004-2010




% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims


1 026 616


1 319 500


791 700


Table 3 Estimated number of victims of unlawful physical violence during the investigation in the bodies of internal affairs of Ukraine in the period of 2004-2010






% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% Of respondents

Estimated number of victims

Infliction of bodily injuries


355 293


491 102


330 300

Torture, torture with the use of special tools or techniques


93 498


113 331


75 400

During the monitoring we consider concerns of citizens as one of the key indicators of their attitude to the problem of torture and ill-treatment in the internal affairs bodies. As show by the experience, that does not imply being under supervision at some facility or having any marked qualities or behavioral traits. Today, in the opinion of the majority of Ukrainians, a criminal suspect, a witness or an ordinary passer-by, and sometimes even a police officer himself can become a victim of unlawful violence   of the police. It is this inability to unravel the motives of the treatment strategy of law enforcement officers and the unpredictability of violence in many cases that causes the greatest rejection and fear of the society.

Thus, according to the data of sociological monitoring, today only 1.8% of Ukrainians believe that unlawful violence by the police does not pose a threat to anybody. And this figure has been falling (2.5% of respondents in 2009). The majority of Ukrainians (66.1%) believe that nobody is guaranteed against violence in the police. It should be separately noted that during 2010 the figure rose by 3%.

              The following is a comparative rating of different categories of persons that could potentially become the victims of aggression on the part of law enforcement officers (Table4). We should note some changes in the list of people at risk of becoming a victim of violence by the police. Thus, first of all, the emotional component of risk assessment significantly increased. For example, in 2010, according to respondents, it became much riskier to insult and humiliate the police - 20.8% of respondents said that this is the most provocative step. Anyone who committed a crime should fear violence of policemen as well - this was indicated by 13.9% of respondents. It should be noted that in 2009 these two categories were also named among the most victimized, but within a year it became a bit riskier to enter into a dispute, or, in particular, to insult the police. According to the rating, this is significantly more dangerous than being a criminal or a recidivist. The risk of being subjected to torture and unlawful violence is also high among the suspects (13.1%) and the degree of criminal act is of no importance. It should also be noted that the risks are reduced for such stigmatized categories as "professional criminal" and "person of no fixed abode."

Table 4 Rating of victimization for representatives of different groups



Only professional criminals, recidivists





Anyone who has committed a crime





Persons of no fixed abode, drunks, beggars




The number of respondents who chose the category



The number of respondents who chose the category




Those who provoke the police





A suspect in a felony





Any suspect










Poor people

7, 0







No one is immune from this





This is not a threat to any person






5, 0


An important goal of the study was to determine the tolerance level of the population to some illegal actions of police officers, as there is always a chance of justificatory approach to ill-treatment on the part of both the police officers and the actual or potential victims of crime. 

The comparative analysis of survey data of 2004, 2009 and 2010 shows a positive trend of decline in population tolerance to the cases of torture or other ill-treatment by Ukrainian police. Thus, in 2010,  76% of respondents indicated that unlawful violence must never be used, 15% believe it is valid only in extreme cases,  8% think that it is possible in relation to certain groups and categories of people, and another 1% are confident that the work of police is not possible without it (Fig.3).  I.e. 24% of respondents in one way or another allow for the possibility, and, in some cases, the need to apply unlawful investigation methods to suspects. In comparison with the surveys of 2004 and 2009, the proportion of people, tolerant-minded to police violence, decreased.


Fig. 3 Comparative distribution of the population responses to the question:

"Is it permissible for police officers to beat, abuse or torture in order to uncover and investigate crimes?" (%)

Quite interesting is the distribution of responses of the police officers to question about the permissibility of the application of unlawful physical or mental violence (Figure 4). It is worth to point to the growth of intolerance to the use of unlawful violence in law enforcement practice (from 35% in 2009 to 49.3% in 2010). No matter how open the answers of respondents were, it seems that there have been some shifts in the minds of a number of police officers, as well as understanding that torture and unlawful violence are unacceptable in their daily practice. These studies suggest that the increase in intolerance against unlawful violence of police officers took place at the expense of those respondents who had previously accepted police violence in special circumstances (for some categories, in extreme cases, etc.). The number of respondents who believe that police cannot effectively work without unlawful violence remained virtually unchanged (5.2%)

Fig. 4 Responses of police officers to the question: "Is it permissible to use physical or psychological violence against detainees to get their confession or information?" (In%)

Among the factors that contribute to the practice of unlawful violence in the police bodies, respondents from the general population named the following in both 2009 and 2010: the impunity of police officers who use unlawful methods (54%), poor selection of candidates, which leads to the acceptance of people with sadistic tendencies to the police (42%), low professional level and poor standards of culture of the police officers (45%). Moreover, there has been a significant increase of 7% (from 38% in 2009 to 45% in 2010) in respect of the last factor. In addition to this factor, there are several other factors characterized with a change in the dynamics of public opinion over the last year. This includes "increase in crime" - an increase of 7%,  and "imperfect laws" - an increase of 10% (Fig.5). In general, virtually all indicators have seen an increase in their average value, in comparison with the results of 2009. 

Fig. 5 Opinion of the population on the underlying causes of unlawful physical and psychological violence in police (in%)

This study showed no significant changes in the opinions of police as to the causes that lead to the use of unlawful violence against detainees. First of all, this is due to the fact that no significant work was performed in this direction over the year. For example, in 2010 (as well as in 2009) the three most important reasons were the violations of police officers rights, the inadequacy of laws and the performance rating system. Unfortunately, the allegations of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs to abolish the system of performance ratings and protect the rights of its officers were limited to the loud claims from the stands. Also, no changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure and procedures were initiated. Thus, the key causes of unlawful violence in the police bodies have not lost their significance.

The main way to solve the problem of unlawful violence in police is to change the system of performance ratings, which is admitted by police officers themselves (50.3%), as well as their convicted former colleagues (62.5%). This once again confirms the fact that the rating system itself has long outlived its usefulness. The rest of the answers of these groups of respondents show significant differences. For example, police officers increasingly indicate the need to properly enforce the rights of policemen (49% of those who responded), whereas only 16.3% of convicted police officers suggest a similar solution to the problem.