The paper discusses public experiences of policing in today’s Russia, public attitudes towards police resulting from such experiences and wider social implications of those attitudes. At the basis of the discussion is an empirical study which has been carried out by the author. The study has found abundant evidence of distrust towards – and fear of – police by contemporary Russians. It is argued that the corrupt, brutal and unaccountable police who lack legitimacy in the eyes of citizens trigger public responses that may help to deepen social inequalities, subvert the process of establishing the rule of law and impede the Russian transition to democracy. Moreover, if citizens view the police as illegitimate – indeed, believe that the very state agency designed to protect them actually presents threats to their security – the legitimacy of the entire state structure is at risk.