Purpose – The paper aims to discuss the perception of the police by members of the public in post‐Soviet Russia following their personal experiences of policing, identify broader social implications of the contemporary public image of the Russian police and assess the potential for changing the current situation. Design/methodology/approach – The discussion is conducted on the basis of findings derived from an empirical study carried out by the author which involved qualitative interviews with members of the public who had personal experiences of policing, and with police officers. Findings – Findings indicate a very negative perception of the police by members of the public. Personal experiences of police misconduct appear to affect negatively citizens' general evaluations of the entire institution. Research limitations/implications – The study was small, and only those who have had personal encounters with the police were interviewed, so the findings should not be treated as necessarily representing attitudes of the population in general. Practical implications – The negative public image of the police revealed by this study has numerous dangerous consequences: people feel insecure and unprotected, lose trust towards legal authorities and refuse to cooperate with the police. Social implications – Distrust towards the police generates a situation where citizens have to be self‐reliant in protecting themselves against crime. Many of the strategies adopted towards this end are problematic. Originality/value – The paper presents a unique insight into public perceptions of the Russian police. It may suggest implications for policy and practice that could help enhance support of citizens for the police, or at least prevent further deterioration of the existing situation.