Gen. Vitaly Fedorchuk, the Soviet interior minister, said today that a "purge" of the country's uniformed police was under way get rid of "ideologically and morally" inadequate officers.
Writing in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, Fedorchuk gave an unusually comprehensive account of law enforcement problems. But he made clear that one of his top priorities is to impose discipline and raise the level of professionalism within his ministry, which controls the uniformed police, riot control troops and criminal investigations.
Fedorchuk, who became the nation's top law enforcement official in December, said he had "sharply reduced paperwork" and the volume of various meetings within the ministry to free senior officials for "direct work" with police officers.
Police officers, he said, have been ordered to get out on the streets to fight hooliganism, corruption, drunkenness, speculation, theft and other crimes.
Soviet sources said privately that Fedorchuk, a career officer of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, was shocked by the inefficiency, arbitrariness and corruptibility of the uniformed police.
According to the sources, he recently presented himself at a local police office in Moscow behaving as an ordinary citizen with a grievance who wanted to have a chat with the captain. The general was said to have been treated rudely by officers and refused a meeting by the captain after he kept Fedorchuk waiting for two hours. Neither the captain nor his men had recognized the minister.
Fedorchuk, who served as the chief of KGB for a short period before being promoted to his current position, is regarded as a tough disciplinarian. He is at the center of the current law-and-order campaign launched by the new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov.
One aspect of Fedorchuk's campaign to impose strict discipline on the nation's uniformed police is a recent Politburo decision to establish a new corps of political officers within the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the aim of raising "the personal responsibility of the staff in meeting their official responsibility."
The police had become notorious for corruption, which had reached to the highest levels of the Interior Ministry. Well-informed sources here disclosed new details about Fedorchuk's predecessor in the job, Gen. Nikolai Shcholokov, who served as the nation's top law enforcement officer for 16 years prior to his ouster by Andropov in December.
The sources said that the authorities have confiscated four Mercedes-Benz sedans that belonged to Shcholokov and another 10 western-made cars he had distributed among members of his family.
They said that Shcholokov was engaged in gross misuse of his official position. Among the charges cited against him is the illegal appropriation of various items confiscated from travelers by the Soviet customs authority.
The sources said that Shcholokov and other senior police officers were also involved in extortion and that they demanded a share of hard-currency earnings from Soviet artists and performers who worked abroad.
While many of these irregularities were known to the authorities for a long time, Shcholokov managed to retain his post apparently because of his personal links to the late Soviet president, Leonid Brezhnev.
After Shcholokov's dismissal Dec. 18, an investigation of his activities disclosed crude and repeated violations of "socialist legality," the sources said. Shcholokov's wife was said by the sources to have committed suicide earlier this year after the investigation closed in on the family.
The sources said that the Communist Party Central Committee held a special closed session in June to discuss the case of the former interior minister and another Central Committee member, Sergei Medunov, who was also known for corrupt practices. At a subsequent formal meeting of the Central Committee, both men were expelled.
Shcholokov, 72, is expected to be put on trial. The sources said that his poor health was the reason that no formal charges against him have been made public so far.
The extent of the shake-up within the Interior Ministry is not known, but knowledgeable sources said that among those removed from their posts was Brezhnev's son-in-law, Lt. Gen. Yuri Churbanov, who was Shcholokov's deputy.
Churbanov s wife, Galina, was involved in a scandal last year in which friends of hers were charged with extortion and speculation in diamonds and hard currency.
Fedorchuk did not disclose any personnel changes within his ministry today. But he reported that the chief of the communications control department, his deputy and other officials were arrested on bribery charges.
The minister also reported incidents involving large-scale theft of state property. He said the chief of a railway station in Georgia stole 1,300 sacks of sugar, and a group of men working at the Kursk train station appropriated goods worth more than $125,000.
He criticized police for their "untimely reaction to hooliganism, theft and unnecessary red tape in investigating crimes, many of which remain unresolved."
Fedorchuk was particularly critical of drunkenness and warned that police should show no mercy toward alcoholics. He said almost 50 percent of all crimes are committed by drunk persons.