(RFE/RL) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired two deputy interior ministers and 16 other high-ranking police officials as part of a reform of the country's beleaguered law enforcement bodies.
At a meeting of senior police officials today in Moscow, Medvedev also ordered drastic cuts in the Interior Ministry, pledged to strengthen discipline in the ranks, and ordered a crackdown on corruption.
"The accountability of Interior Ministry personnel at all levels should be increased," Medvedev said. "In particular, I have proposed making a crime committed by a police officer an aggravating circumstance in criminal cases."
Medvedev fired Deputy Interior Ministers Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Arkady Yedelev, replacing them with Sergei Gerasimov and Sergei Bulavin. Both had served in Medvedev's Kremlin administration. Gerasimov was head of the department for constitutional rights and Bulavin worked in the legal department.
Medvedev said he had ordered that the number of personnel in the ministry's head office be cut in half -- from 20,000 to about 10,000 -- and promised to reshuffle top ministry officials. He also ordered the number of police officers cut by one-fifth by the beginning of 2012, and changed police recruitment rules.
Medvedev also ordered the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to submit a new draft law to regulate the Russian police to parliament by December 1. He also gave Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev one month to submit a new plan for battling corruption within the ministry.
"Those [police officers] who violate discipline should be punished -- and punished severely," he said. "Those who fail to obey a lawfully issued order are criminals."
In a five-page statement released as Medvedev spoke, the Kremlin said the president had signed a decree ordering other measures, including taking away from the Interior Ministry the responsibility for deporting foreign citizens, carrying out automobile inspections, and housing people detained for drunkenness.
Russian police have come under mounting public criticism for massive corruption and abuses. Human rights groups say that police officers routinely use torture and blackmail, falsify evidence, and arrest people on trumped-up charges to meet monthly quotas.
A series of violent incidents -- most recently this week, when a drunk Moscow police major ran over a woman on a downtown sidewalk, fracturing her ribs -- have increased pressure on the Kremlin to act.
One of the most notorious incidents was a supermarket shooting spree last April in which a Moscow police precinct chief killed two people and wounded seven others. Prosecutors have demanded that the police chief, Denis Yevsyukov, be sentenced to life in prison. A verdict in the case is expected in the coming days.