The MVD had a wide array of duties. It was responsible for uncovering and investigating certain categories of crime, apprehending criminals, supervising the internal passport (see Glossary) system, maintaining public order, combating public intoxication, supervising parolees, managing prisons and labor camps, providing fire protection, and controlling traffic. Until early 1988, the MVD was also in charge of special psychiatric hospitals, but a law passed in January 1988 transferred all psychiatric hospitals to the authority of the Ministry of Health.
As a union-republic ministry under the Council of Ministers, the MVD had its headquarters in Moscow and branches in the republic and regional government apparatus, as well as in kraia and cities. Unlike the MVD, the internal affairs apparatus was subject to dual subordination; local internal affairs offices reported both to the executive committees of their respective local soviets and to their superior offices in the MVD hierarchy.
The MVD headquarters in Moscow was divided into several directorates and offices. The Directorate for Combating the Embezzlement of Socialist Property and Speculation was established in the late 1960s to control such white-collar crime as embezzlement and falsification of economic plan records. The Criminal Investigation Directorate assisted the Procuracy, and on occasion the MVD, in the investigation of criminal cases. There was a separate department for investigating and prosecuting minor cases, such as traffic violations, and the Maintenance of Public Order Directorate, which was responsible for ensuring order in public places and for preventing outbreaks of public unrest.
The members of the militsiia (uniformed police), as part of the regular police force, were distinguished by their gray uniforms with red piping. The duties of the militsiia included patrolling public places to ensure order and arresting persons who violated the law, including vagrants and drunks. Resisting arrest or preventing a police officer from executing his duties was a serious crime in the Soviet Union, punishable by one to five years' imprisonment. Killing a policeman was punishable by death.
The Office of Visas and Registration was charged with registering Soviet citizens and foreigners residing in each precinct of a city and with issuing internal passports to Soviet citizens. Soviet citizens wishing to emigrate from the Soviet Union and foreigners wishing to travel within the Soviet Union had to obtain visas from this office. The Office of Recruitment and Training supervised the recruitment of new members of the militsiia, who were recommended by work collectives and public organizations. The local party and Komsomol bodies screened candidates thoroughly to ensure their political reliability. Individuals serving in the militsiia were exempt from the regular military draft.
Data as of May 1989