Moscow is looking to set up a
program that it likens to neighborhood watch in the
United States, in which concerned residents keep a close
eye on the goings-on in their apartment buildings and
tip off the police to anything they deem
The local press, however,
warned that the program would be a step back to the
Stalin era, when informants were widely encouraged by
the authorities. Human rights activists concurred,
saying the system could be ripe for abuse.
The Moscow City Duma is to
consider in a first reading Wednesday a bill to create
the program. Under it, each of Moscow's 600
neighborhoods would have a council of residents who
alert the police about signs of suspicious activity and
The bill's author, Deputy
Inna Svyatenko, said Monday that there appears to be no
shortage of residents who are willing to volunteer their
services to maintain order but they need to be granted
an official status.
She insisted that the
legislation does not aim to create a hidden
crime-fighting force of informants but instead provide
the police with much-needed assistance in preventing
crime such as terrorist acts.
"We would like to raise
public conscientiousness to such a level that people
will not just step over a suspicious package left near
their homes or ignore someone who clearly resembles a
suicide bomber when he or she enters the apartment
building," Svyatenko said.
She stressed that members of
the public councils would not be under any obligation to
report questionable activity.
"As it is now, a fight breaks
out in your courtyard, nobody cares until someone is
murdered, and then we indignantly ask each other which
way the police were looking," Svyatenko said.
The 600 public councils would
share offices with neighborhood police officers, or
uchastkoviye. Any resident would be eligible to join,
but only council chairmen would be paid.
Svyatenko is proposing that
the pay be 3,000 rubles ($100) per month and come from
the city's budget.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has
thrown his backing behind the bill, and the program
could become reality as early as the fall if it is
passed in a second reading in September, when the City
Duma returns from its summer recess, Svyatenko
She said several public
councils are operating already in an experimental pilot
program in the south-central Taganka district.
Izvestia poured scorn on the
program in a front-page article late last
concierges and street cleaners in Taganka have turned
into typical agents of the secret services. Such people
were once called informants in Russia, " the newspaper
Prominent human rights
advocate Sergei Grigoryants of the Glasnost Foundation
said the proposed program "is especially dangerous in
our situation, when the level of public confidence in
the police is low."
He said it would only
encourage residents to sling dirt at their neighbors and
the police and Federal Security Service to beef up their
stables of informers -- typically drug addicts and
others who have had scrapes with the law.
Moscow police, however, had
nothing but praise for the idea Monday.
"We would welcome the
appearance of such councils, after all, we cannot detect
everything," police spokesman Kirill Mazurin
Mazurin said that the number
of phoned-in tips has jumped 300 percent since the
double suicide bombings at the rock concert in Tushino
on July 5. The number of calls over suspicious packages
has grown to 1 percent of all calls that the police
register every day, from 0.1 percent before July 5, he
Police said the public
councils could make their lives a lot easier by working
alongside the some 10,000 druzhinniki -- volunteers who
currently patrol neighborhood streets and remove the odd
drunk from the metro.
Svyatenko said the councils
could help improve neighborhoods as well by counseling
teenage troublemakers, reaching out to battered wives or
lobbying local officials for new playground
Neighborhood watches are not
unheard of in Moscow. After the apartment bombings in
1999, residents of more than 100 apartment buildings
formed groups to patrol their buildings and courtyards