One day last fall, a police officer here put on his uniform and sat on a drab tan couch before a video camera. In a halting monotone, he recorded two video appealsto Vladimir V. Putin, 13 minutes in all.
He was a nobody cop from a nowhere city, but his words would startle this country.
“How can a police officer accept bribes?” the officer asked. “Do you understand where our society is heading? You talk about reducing corruption,” he said. “You say that it should not be just a crime, that it should be immoral. But it is not like that. I told my boss that the police are corrupt. And he told me that it cannot be done away with. “I am not afraid of quitting. I will tell you my name. I am Dymovsky, Aleksei Aleksandrovich.”
The videos were uploaded to YouTube in November, and a nation that has grown increasingly infuriated by police wrongdoing could not take its eyes off them. Here, finally, was an insider acknowledging the enveloping culture of corruption in Russia’s police forces — the payoffs large and small, the illegal arrests to extort money, the police chiefs who buy fancy cars and mansions on modest state salaries.
The videos have been watched more than two million times, giving Mr. Dymovsky a kind of fame in Russia similar to that of the police whistleblower Frank Serpico, who in the 1970s spoke out against police corruption in New York City.
But despite the attention, Mr. Putin, the prime minister, has spurned him. So has Mr. Putin’s protégé, PresidentDmitri A. Medvedev, though Mr. Medvedev has conceded that police corruption has reached shameful levels. And local authorities quickly retaliated against the officer.
Mr. Dymovsky, 32, was immediately fired from his job here in Novorossiysk, a port on the Black Sea, 750 miles south of Moscow. The police interrogated him, his relatives and his close friends, and raided their homes.
During one search of Mr. Dymovsky’s apartment, investigators tried to plant drugs, according to his wife, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time.
In January, they arrested him and charged him with abuse of office and fraud under a law governing state secrets. The crime they alleged: embezzling $800 in petty cash from the department over several years.
In jail, Mr. Dymovsky was isolated, and prosecutors sought to subject him to a lengthy psychiatric examination. But with the affair proving an embarrassment, he was released after six weeks, and the charges were eventually dropped.
Still, the chief of the Novorossiysk police and a high-ranking officer sued Mr. Dymovsky for slander, and a judge ordered him to pay the equivalent of $3,500 in damages.
International research organizations rank Russia as having the world’s most corrupt large economy, in part because of bribery linked to law enforcement personnel. But senior Russian officials have long seemed to view the loyalty of police officers as more important than their integrity.
And the authorities appeared to do nothing to correct the abuses that Mr. Dymovsky publicized.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police nationwide, denied Mr. Dymovsky’s charges. All was in order, the ministry said, with the Novorossiysk police force.
Mr. Dymovsky’s Internet appeals have been imitated by other Russians who are despondent about official malfeasance and believe that they have no other outlet for their views because the state-controlled media whitewashes these problems.
But the Kremlin is seeking to curtail this trend, at least among the police. Parliament, controlled by Mr. Putin’s party, this month toughened penalties for officers who criticize their superiors. It is being called the “Dymovsky law.”
Making Ends Meet
Mr. Dymovsky admits that his own hands are not clean. According to his personnel records, he had a promising career as a police officer, with commendations and promotions. Even so, he said in an interview, he took bribes.
As a major, he was paid only about $450 a month. He said that the authorities know that on such low salaries, officers must find other ways to make ends meet.
He insisted that he accepted only small bribes, never more than $20 at a time. But this was his point: Corruption is endemic.
“The system, from your first day at work, requires you to go out and obtain bribes,” he said. “How else are you going to survive?”
Mr. Dymovsky also described a practice that is considered common in Russia: When officers end their shifts, they have to turn over a portion of their bribes to the so-called cashier, a senior member of the department. Typically, $25 to $100 a day.
If officers do not pay up, they are disciplined.
Mr. Dymovsky said that by 2007, he had become so demoralized that he pledged to himself that he would never again accept a bribe.
Around the same time, he tried to speak with Mr. Putin on his annualcall-in television show, during which he responds to complaints and questions from Russians. Mr. Putin was president then.
Mr. Dymovsky said he had called and informed the operator that he hoped to ask Mr. Putin what he was doing about the “lawlessness and corruption” among the police.
He was kept off the air, and later found out that his call had been traced. The Interior Ministry in Moscow alerted his department, and he was reprimanded at several meetings. He was told that a letter had been drafted under his name, in which he would deny having called.
“I realized how this system of covering each other’s backs worked, and that it was not just restricted to Novorossiysk, but reached as far as the Kremlin,” Mr. Dymovsky said.
He decided to record the videos after months of tension.
Mr. Dymovsky said he was upset that his superiors did not care that he had suffered a work-related injury to his arm. (Mr. Dymovsky devoted part of his appeals to denouncing workplace conditions for the police.)
In person these days, Mr. Dymovsky is far more relaxed than the stiff officer in the videos. Tall, with light red hair and a slightly mischievous laugh, he has become a confident public speaker, and seems to enjoy — if not crave — the spotlight.
Luxury on $25,000 a Year
In Novorossiysk, Mr. Dymovsky offered a tour of what he maintained were among the most dispiriting symbols of corruption: the luxury homes of the police brass.
The main stop was the spacious beachfront home where the head of the department, Chief Vladimir Chernositov, lives.
The building, with a conspicuous light blue roof, is on the Black Sea, some of the most expensive real estate in Russia, valued at roughly $800,000 an acre, according to advertisements.
Chief Chernositov has not denied that the home is his, but has never publicly explained how he can afford it. A police chief’s salary for a city like Novorossiysk, which has 225,000 people, is typically about $25,000 annually, experts said.
One of Chief Chernositov’s deputies, Vladimir Grebenyuk, said in an interview that the department was offended by Mr. Dymovsky’s video appeals.
He said Mr. Dymovsky had been an average, though not disgruntled, employee.
Deputy Chief Grebenyuk said that after the videos were publicized, a special committee examined Mr. Dymovsky’s accusations.
“Not a single fact presented by Dymovsky was confirmed,” Deputy Chief Grebenyuk said. “Everything he said was false and invented.”
“You know, our system, the system of the Interior Ministry, is very transparent,” he said.
Asked how many members of the department had been punished for corruption recently, he said the number was tiny. But he would not provide any details.
A Backlash Felt in Moscow
Those who have helped Mr. Dymovsky or demanded a wholesale revamping of the police have also come under pressure.
In Novorossiysk, a human rights activist named Vadim Karastelyov was jailed for a week for distributing leaflets asking residents to attend a rally for Mr. Dymovsky. After Mr. Karastelyov was released, he was savagely beaten by two strangers who did not try to rob him.
Mr. Karastelyov had been receiving anonymous threats by phone and text message, but the police would not provide him with protection. He recently fled Novorossiysk with his family.
“The police leaders want everyone to forget about Dymovsky, so they can continue to doing what they have been doing — committing corrupt acts and fabricating cases against innocent people,” Mr. Karastelyov said.
The backlash extended to Moscow.
A few weeks after Mr. Dymovsky’s video appeals, a senior member of Parliament from Mr. Putin’s own party, Andrei Makarov, declared that the police were so corrupt nationwide that the entire Interior Ministry should be abolished.
Mr. Makarov was disavowed by his party.
“When I made that statement, believe me, for several days, no one knew what would happen to me,” Mr. Makarov said in an interview. “It was as if, ‘How dare he!’ What happened was that I was talking about the people who have the real power in this country.”
Mr. Makarov said he was not a fan of Mr. Dymovsky, expressing doubts about Mr. Dymovsky’s honesty. But Mr. Makarov said reform was desperately needed.
Reform Plan Stalls
He said the government should dismiss half of the country’s 1.2 million police officers and establish a system to fairly adjudicate complaints about the police.
President Medvedev has proposed reducing the number of officers by 20 percent, but there are already indications that his reform proposal has stalled.
“Police officers know for sure that nobody will hold them accountable if a crime is not solved, but they will be held accountable if they allow a demonstration to occur,” Mr. Makarov said. “They will not be held accountable for putting an innocent person in jail or beating one on the street, but they will be if somebody takes a stand against the authorities.”
Mr. Dymovsky said the only real answer is for Russians to create a grass-roots anticorruption movement. Since his release from jail, he has been traveling around the country, trying to rally support for new policies.
But he is still apparently considered a danger.
Recently, he went to Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city, to attend a protest. He said he was accosted by four plainclothes police officers, who told him that if he ever wanted to see his family again, he should leave and never return.