Interview by Alisa Grebinskyte, Assistant at Policy Reform Team, EHRN. Prepared with contribution by Eka Iakobishvili, EHRN Expert on Human Rights and Drug Policies.
December 10, the International Human Rights Day, marked the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which lasted since November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. During this time, women rights activists from all over the world carried out various activities calling to end violence against women and girls. Joining the Initiative, EHRN was implementing various communication activities calling for the partnership between law enforcement and civil society and emphasizing its importance.
To mark the end of the Initiative, EHRN presents an interview with Vladimir Cazacov, Deputy Chief at the General Department of Public Security of Moldova. Moldova is one of the countries of our region qualified as a good example in building partnership between law enforcement and civil society. Vladimir Cazacov is keen to share the experience and knowledge that Moldova has accumulated in the area of drug treatment, drug policing and police reforms.
Please tell us about the police reform in the Moldova Republic. What results has it yielded?
The police reform has affected the whole police structure. The history of the police reform in the Republic of Moldova dates back to 2010. In the process of the reform the police not only changed their uniforms and got new supplies, but they also changed their mentality, including in terms of their work with people who use drugs. Relevant agencies preventing and combatting drug abuse among people who use drugs, including the police, realized that punishment is not an efficient tool for solving social problems related to drug use. Building on this approach, the Drug Strategy of the Republic of Moldova offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and balanced approach to dealing with drug-related problems, based on an integrated, interdepartmental, interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral cooperation at all levels. Speaking of the police’s former approach – a person who uses drugs was perceived solely as an offender or a law breaker. Today, that person is regarded as someone in need of assistance. One of the results of using this new approach is that in the Republic of Moldova a critical partnership with NGOs was established, and this partnership has helped to reveal many issues in police work; due to those issues certain police activities did not really lead to a reduction in crime. One of the best examples of the critical partnership between the police and civil society in the Republic of Moldova is their collaboration to identify the shortcomings in the police activities that may lead to serious human rights violations in relation to persons from risk groups.
An example of this collaboration is the joint work of the General Police Inspectorate and the Union of organizations working in the field of HIV prevention and harm reduction (UORN) that signed a cooperation agreement. In accordance with the Agreement, the parties undertook to develop and adopt joint plans for HIV prevention in key affected populations in close cooperation with the state medical-sanitary institutions and non-governmental organizations working in this field. Also, it set a goal to disseminate information materials on HIV prevention programs and to reduce risks in key affected populations with the goal of referring people from the communities at risk to services that offer assistance and psychosocial support.
What are the benefits of cooperation with NGOs?
Cooperation of the police with NGOs working with people who use drugs made it possible to develop a training program for police officers "Police participation in harm reduction and HIV prevention among people who inject drugs."
As of today, four training sessions have been conducted for the police, and 65 police officers and 31 heads of police departments were trained. NGO representatives also participated in these training sessions and presented on the methods for referring people who use drugs to harm reduction programs.
As part of cooperation with NGOs, the police personnel participated in the development of strategic planning documents for NGOs that addressed the implementation of harm reduction and HIV prevention programs; the opinions and suggestions expressed by the police were taken into account and included in the final document.
You said that the reform had changed the mentality of the police. Please tell us how? What exactly has changed?
Since 2013, the police have no longer been putting emphasis on necessarily punishing people who use drugs. God help them. But they are focusing their efforts on providing reassurance and assistance to people who use drugs by referring them to specialized services such as NGOs and healthcare facilities in order to implement programs that can help them reduce the risks.
Thus, in statistical reports prepared by police services that deal with public safety, legal and social norms, a new mandatory section "Number of persons referred for specialized services" was introduced. It is important to note that now police work is evaluated not only by how many offenders they detained for one or another offense, but also by how many people were referred for treatment.
The main advantage of the new performance evaluation framework is precisely the fact that people who use drugs are perceived as people who need help from society. Also, it is expected that the invisible gap between the police and drug users will be reduced, thus enabling drug users to participate in the substitution treatment and needle and syringe exchange programs and reducing the risk of a spread of other dangerous blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis and others.
In 2014, in collaboration with UNAIDS, we worked hard to introduce internal regulations in the police force to facilitate HIV prevention among people who inject drugs. Before, we had developed instructions for police officers that helped them learn about the problems faced by drug users and how cooperation between the police and civil society can help improve public health. As a result of this cooperation, the guidelines for the police were adopted by the Order of the General Inspectorate. These guidelines specify how the police can help people who inject drugs reduce the risks of dangerous social diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and other infections transmitted during injection drug use. Following these guidelines, our officers already know how to provide first aid in case of a drug overdose. In other words, we have combined public safety and public health approaches. Also, one of the tasks of the guidelines is to ensure the safety of staff and heads of police forces during the performance of official duties by adhering to the generally accepted standard precautions for reducing the risk of HIV infection, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.
What are the benefits of the referral system?
According to the law on the control and prevention of alcohol abuse and illicit use of drugs and other psychotropic substances, individuals who abuse alcohol or illegal drugs and other psychotropic substances, including patients with chronic alcoholism, drug dependency and substance abuse, may receive treatment of their choice in state outpatient or inpatient drug treatment facilities or specialized private clinics, and undergo a short course of treatment at local health-care facilities.
Drug treatment is voluntary (with an option of anonymous treatment), except in cases provided for by law and other regulations.
As an alternative to detention, people who use drugs can be referred to treatment programs by a court decision.
For the law enforcement system, this referral system is the best solution because it eliminates the creation of financial difficulties for the family, or conflict situations at home or in public places because of intoxication and people’s failure to account for their actions, or the imposition of sanctions by law enforcement officials.
This year, during our campaign special attention was also drawn to women living with HIV, with the goal of preventing all forms of violence that they may experience, including domestic violence.
Based on the above-mentioned, we appeal to women who experience violence, including domestic violence, to break the silence and ask for help and not to allow the aggressors to continue their illegal acts. Only through joint efforts it is possible to reduce the risk of becoming a victim in such situations.
In the process of the reform the police not only changed their uniforms and got new supplies, but they also changed their mentality, including in terms of their work with people who use drugs. Relevant agencies preventing and combatting drug abuse among people who use drugs, including the police, realized that punishment is not an efficient tool for solving social problems related to drug use.
It is important to note that now police work is evaluated not only by how many offenders they detained for one or another offense, but also by how many people were referred for treatment.