Citizens and the law enforcement system of Ukraine: how has the year under the new government affected public opinion

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6 вересня 2020
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The nationwide survey was conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation jointly with the Razumkov Center sociological service from July 3 to 9, 2020, via face-to-face interviews at the respondents' place of residence. 2022 respondents aged over 18 y.o. were interviewed in all regions of Ukraine, except for Crimea and the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – a sample representative of the adult population, according to the key socio-demographic indicators. The theoretical sampling error (excluding the design effect) does not exceed 2.3% with a probability of 0.95. The survey was funded as part of the MATRA project of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The trust towards and assessment of the work of law enforcement officials

• Most Ukrainians share a negative opinion of the work of the top law enforcement officials. In particular, Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov has the lowest balance of positive/negative assessments:  -52%, Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk - -41%, Head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) Nazar Kholodnytsky - -40%, Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova - -39%, Acting Chairman of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) Oleksandr Sokolov - -33%, Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) Ivan Bakanov - -30%.

• At the same time, a significant proportion of citizens do not know who heads law enforcement agencies. The most recognizable figure is Arsen Avakov - only 3% of respondents have no knowledge of him, and the most unknown figure is the Acting SBI Chairman - 37% of respondents know nothing about Oleksandr Sokolov.

Comparing the balance of trust towards law enforcement agencies and that of their leaders

• There is a relationship between the respondets’ assessment of the management of law enforcement agencies and their political preferences. Voters of the "Servant of People" party have the most positive attitude towards law enforcement officials, and the supporters of the “Opposition Platform – For Life” party share the most negative attitude. The supporters of the “European Solidarity” party have the most negative attitude towards SSU and the Prosecutor General's Office.

• The SSU has a more significant margin of trust. At the same time, the assessment of the Head of the SSU is significantly lower than the trust towards the institution. This means that successful operations  by the SSU will improve the assessment of the management while mistakes and violations made by the Head of the SSU will undermine confidence in the service as a whole.

• Leaders who assumed their first governmental office under President Zelenskyi (Bakanov and Sokolov) are less well-known and have a better balance of assessment than leaders who were appointed before Zelenskyi (Avakov and Sytnyk). Thus, we conclude that the relatively more positive assessment of the SSU and SBI largely comes from Zelenskyi's supporters. If these officials fail to demonstrate positive results, the balance of assessment will deteriorate over time.

• Low trust towards Prosecutor's Office and SAPO leads to the low assessment of the activities of the heads of these structures. Citizens generally do not perceive Prosecutor's Office and SAPO as law enforcement agencies, regardless of who heads them. Therefore, a change of staff will not change the attitude of citizens. Most likely, stronger evidence of sustainable positive changes in the prosecutorial system is needed to change public opinion.

Accordingly, there is a threat that the actions of law enforcement agencies will be assessed by different groups of society not from the perspective of the rule of law, but rather from the standpoint of compliance with the political goals of certain political forces and political leaders.

At the same time, the majority of the "Servant of the People" party voters assess the work of all law enforcement agencies negatively, as do other citizens.

The transformation of law enforcement agencies into instruments of political struggle may not consolidate, but rather split the "Servant of the People" voters and turn the majority of the society against the government and even provoke active resistance.

Ukrainians feel calmer in their communities than in the country at large

The opinions of citizens towards the changes in security and public order over the last 12 months (from June 2019 to July 2020) are split. 43% of respondents believe that there were no changes at all, and 44% felt the changes for the worse. Only 9% noticed positive changes and about 4% hesitated to respond.

• As far as the regional context is concerned, most negative assessments of changes in the country as a whole come from the residents of the southern region (59%), and the western region has the largest share of those who believe that nothing has changed (52%).

• At the same time, when it comes to security and order in cities and villages, 59% of respondents reported that the situation has not changed over the last year, 25% believe that the situation has worsened, around 12% say that the situation has improved, and nearly 4% hesitated to answer.

• When asked about security and public order near their home (neighborhood or district), 64% of Ukrainians reported that there was no change for the better or for the worse, 21% believe that the situation worsened, 11% said the situation improved, and around 4% did not answer.

• In general, respondents in the western part of the country feel most secure – both in terms of security of the country as a whole and threats to life in local communities.

• An interesting paradox was observed in the South: an unusually high proportion respondent believe that negative changes in security and order took place in the country as a whole. while in their communities and near their homes, they were the most frequent changes in the last 12 months.

• Respondents from rural areas and cities with a population between 100,000 and 1 million reported positive changes in security and public order more often, and the most negative assessments were given mostly by respondents from cities with a population of over 1 million.

The greatest social tensions due to the deterioration of security and public order were observed in the eastern regions: residents of the East report about share low safety assessments in the country in general combined with a poor perception of the safety situation assessments in their social environment. That is, the gradual or sudden deterioration of the criminogenic situation in Eastern Ukraine can be used to impose the view that there is a connection between poor governance, the state of war, and the lack of order and security in the settlements.

It should be noted that targeted research should be conducted in the southern and eastern regions that would be designed to identify the most vulnerable areas and show how residents of these communities perceive law enforcement initiatives and activities for the purpose of better evaluation of the perception of security and public order.

The impunity of criminals within law enforcement agencies destroys public confidence in the law enforcement system

• When choosing among the possible reasons for the illegal behavior of law enforcement officers, citizens emphasized the following ones: the confidence of perpetrators in impunity (42%), corrupt supervision of officers who committed violations (38%), imperfect legislation and lack of severe penalties for violators (36%), and a conspiracy of silence within law enforcement agencies and protection of violators by their management (35%).

• Thus, in the public consciousness, crimes committed by law enforcement officers are related to the confidence of citizens that law enforcement officers are not able and not interested in stopping crimes in their own ranks. This shows that citizens are convinced that law enforcement officers will not be punished and convicted due to the resources law enforcements officials have to pressure or bribe the investigation and the court, the selfishness of their immediate superiors, and imperfect legislation.

• The positive factor so far is that citizens do not link law enforcement crimes to the negligence of the senior management or the merger of law enforcement agencies with criminal structures. Thus, timely, adequate, rigid, and consistent response of law enforcement officials to the crimes of their subordinates remains a starting point to build public confidence in the law enforcement system in general and individual bodies.

• Another important area of ​​building trust is the introduction of sufficient legal safeguards to deter the emergence and the spread of illegal actions by law enforcement officials, break the conspiracy of silence, and ensure the quality and impartiality of investigation of the crimes that have provoked a strong public response.

Crimes that worry citizens the most

• Among the problems of their cities and villages that require the attention of law enforcement agencies, the surveyed citizens included the following: drug distribution (40%), drunk driving (38%), hooliganism (37%), corrupted officials (25%), burglary (25%), theft in public places (21%), and fraud (21%). At the same time, respondents noticed that law enforcement agencies are somewhat successful in dealing with the following issues: hooliganism (21%) and drunk driving (16%). 33% of Ukrainians believe that law enforcement officers are incapable of solving any problems; another 27% declined to answer.

• In general, the largest gap between assessments of the importance of the problem and the effectiveness of law enforcement officers is observed in the following areas: drug distribution and use (40% of respondents consider it a serious problem, and only 8% say that law enforcement agencies are effective in preventing such crimes), corruption (25% of respondents consider it a serious problem, and only 4% reported that law enforcement agencies are effective in solving this problem),  looting of private houses (25% and 4% respectively), fraud (21% and 5% respectively), robberу (12% and 4% respectively).

In the regional context, the following trends emerge: the majority of respondents from the southern (59%) and eastern regions (54%) complained about the distribution and use of drugs. The problem of hooliganism was often mentioned by residents of the East (43%) and by residents of small towns (with a population of fewer than 49 thousand people). The looting of private homes was often mentioned in the southern and eastern regions (29% and 31% respectively). Fraud is of greater concern to residents of eastern Ukraine (32%), compared to other regions. Residents of large cities (27% in cities with more than 1 million people and 28% in cities between 100,000 and 1 million people) and in central oblasts (26%) often complained about theft in public places. Corruption by authorities is often reported by residents of large cities (39% in cities with a population of over 1 million and 30% in cities with 100,000 to 1 million people).

Direct and purposeful work to reduce the incidens crime in certain regions and oblasts of the country, especially in the East, will not only help to improve the general criminogenic situation, but also better the perception of the state as a whole. It is also important to pay attention to targeted preventive, informational, and educational work with citizens designed to prevent certain crimes (fraud, looting of homes, drug use, etc.) and improve the interaction with law enforcement agencies to prevent these crimes.