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14 August, 2016  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

The new era of crime

In the past two years, crime rates have grown in Ukraine. Factors contributing to the general criminalization of society include economic decline and war

According to the consolidated data of the General Prosecutor's Office, in 2013 police recorded 13,776 major crimes. In 2015, this figure was around 21,500. In the first six months of 2016, it amounted to almost 12,000. If the trend continues, this number will be even greater. Specifically, in the last two years the number of murders, robberies, especially with the use of firearms, burglaries and carjacks has increased dramatically. While in 2013 17,000 cases of burglary were recorded, in 2015 this figure reached almost 22,000. Carjacking is the second most popular crime. Over the past two years, the number of carjacks increased from 3,800 to 6,900. The number of homicides also grew, from 5,900 to 8,200.

 "The overall crime rate is growing, I agree. Unfortunately, there are objective reasons for this," says Khatia Dekanoidze, Head of the National Police. "First of all, the economic situation in the country has been deteriorating since 2012, and this is always accompanied by an increase in crime. Once the living standards start declining, crime rates start rising, especially as far as property crimes are concerned. Secondly, the war has been going on since 2014, contributing to the spread of organized crime and an increase in illegal arms trafficking. Thirdly, the number of crimes should not be concealed to improve statistics, and we are now taking the appropriate measures to that end."

The latter argument was taken on board by the officials stating that previously many crimes were concealed, while now they are being honest and open. That creates an impression that there was a sharp spike. "In 2016, half the number of cases was finalized compared to 2015. My priority is not to show good statistics. It is important to show people that there is a problem, a case has been filed and the police are taking care of it. Of course, the crime clearance rate has also decreased, but this is due to many factors," Dekanoidze said. At the same time, she mentioned the successful work of the police to curb illicit arms trafficking and combat organized crime.

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The reasons of such dynamics are obvious: the war in Donbas and economic crisis. However, the crisis began to manifest itself long before the Maidan events, and was accompanied by a rise in crime. "The crime rate started growing in 2013, not now, in the last six months, not after the National Police was established. In fact, crime rate has been on the rise since 2012. It's just that in the last year and a half it became more obvious," Dekanoidze reiterated.

The level of crime detection has declined, according to the Interior Ministry, after the agency gave up on improving statistics on paper. Nevertheless, over the past two turbulent years, the war played a decisive role in the rise of crime. First of all, it supplied a huge number of weapons to the black market, making it easy for most criminals to procure firearms. As The Ukrainian Week found out, today a standard Makarov gun can easily be bought in Kyiv for $300–400. And the closer you are to the ATO area, the cheaper and easier it is to get weapons, not only guns, but also assault rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, and machine guns. All these weapons have already started to "speak." According to both the Interior Ministry and the independent experts, today 3–4 million illegal weapon pieces are circulating in the country.

The second factor, according to criminologist Anna Malyar, which is not discussed publicly for the sake of political correctness, is the forced migrants from Donbas, of whom there are now more than 1.5 million across the Ukrainian territory, according to the most conservative estimates. Obviously, not all these people were successful in starting a new life, especially in the circumstances where the state almost abandoned them to their own fate, providing a rather conventional assistance. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of them willingly or unwillingly chose the path of crime and started to earn money by committing offenses.

Another issue, which the MIA does not like to discuss, is the professional competency of its employees. For the past two years, this agency has been undergoing constant lustrations, certifications, reforms, etc. Of course, they are necessary, but all of this has a very negative impact on the ability of the law enforcement officers to perform their functions. The Ukrainian Week has already written more than once that the smokescreen of the new patrol police is simply hiding the unreformed investigative and operational staff, which is arguably the most important part of the MIA apparatus. Roughly speaking, these are those who are supposed to find out about a crime, to investigate it, to apprehend criminals, and to prove their guilt in court.

Today we have a situation where the investigative and operational units have for the most part avoided the lustration and re-certification processes. However, many professionals who still worked for the agency have left without waiting for the checks, also because on the wave of hatred towards the police after the Maidan events, all their financial bonuses and awards were cut down, leaving them with their modest salaries. This caused the outflow of a considerable number of law enforcement employees.

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Yet another factor that should not be forgotten is the controversial "Savchenko's bill," whereby one day spent by a defendant in SIZO, the pre-trial detention center, equals two days in prison. The law was sponsored by Batkivshchyna, initiated by Nadia Savchenko and supported by many human rights activists as a tool to speed up pre-trial consideration of cases. It came into force on December 24, 2015, and has since been applied to about 40,000 people. Now, police, lawyers, Justice Ministry and many human rights activists are unanimous in stating that many people convicted for grave offenses walk free as a result of it.

The effect of the economic crisis is self-explanatory: over the last two years, Ukrainians have become noticeably poorer. The unemployment rate grew significantly, many people have been thrown idle and know no other ways of earning their bread beside crime. Add to this the workforce clusters in major cities, which further increase the risk of offenses.

Experts say that Ukrainian society is now approaching the crime levels of the 1990s. The problem here is not so much the crime rate, as the return to criminal behaviors which, on the one hand, pushes the disadvantaged segments of the population to the path of crime and, on the other, creates public distrust in the government's ability to protect ordinary citizens. Such things create lasting negative results that we all had a chance to witness in Donbas, which was the heart of the so-called black demographic zone, that is, the region with consistently high rates of crime, mortality and diseases like HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C. Now, the entire territory of the country could become such a zone.

The situation in Ukraine is very typical of all countries that enter such turbulence – such as Croatia in the 1990s. It also faced an orgy of lawlessness and criminalization of society in the country. Solutions to this are trivial and obvious: increased efficiency of law enforcement agencies through reform, staff turnover, and wage hike; stabilization of the economic situation, which allows an increasingly large part of the population to earn daily bread with normal, legitimate work.

Another way to normalize the situation is to solve the issue of the huge number of illegal weapons in circulation. Many experts suggest using the Moldovan experience, where the same problem arose 20 years ago following the military conflict in Transnistria. The solution was to adopt the law allowing civilian firearm possession. It was supposed to encourage respectable citizens who had bought weapons for self-defense to register them with the police, because criminals have them anyway.

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