Friday, 31 August 2012
Royal Malaysian Police in a state of unrest - S THAYAPARAN
"The police are not here to create disorder; they're here to preserve disorder." - Richard J Daley
COMMENT Bukit Aman police secretariat (public relations) assistant head Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf could be right when he claims that the writer of the anonymous letter alleging the possible doctoring of crime statistics is probably not a police officer.
However you don't need to be a police officer to be familiar with the operating procedures of the PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police). Massaging statistics and reclassifying crimes is hardly new when it comes to law enforcement agencies worldwide in justifying their performance, not to mention the continued use of their methods.
All that is needed is someone with insider knowledge motivated to impart this knowledge which lends an air of authenticity to the expose and then if you have something to hide (which the PDRM most certainly has) you are in a whole world of hurt.
The PDRM's response has been professional, but the rebuttal itself is not the required knock-out that the PDRM desperately needs at the moment.
The war of words between the opposition and the Home Ministry over the discrepancies of crime statistics and the siege mentality of an urban voting public plagued by crime that seems to permeate every level of society has effectively made the PDRM the least credible government agency in the land.
Furthermore, the one too many deaths in custody, in addition to the ‘police shootouts' - the most recent of which has resulted in ‘witnesses' being detained for ‘further investigation' - lends credence to perception that the PDRM is hostile to a public it has sworn to protect.
When we factor in issues such as race and class, what we are left with is a police force bereft of any legitimacy in its pursuit of enforcement of the law in this country.
Cops and robbers
However what is most damaging to the credibility of the police force, and this has always been the case, is the perception (reality?) that it is an institution of Umno and not an independent body. This goes for the entire security apparatus of this country.
When Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali boasts that if a military base is located in his constituency, he would surely be re-elected and this passes without comment from Umno-BN, it doesn't take a genius to realise that the corridors of Umno power intersect with those of the security departments in this country.
When a former head of the PDRM is asked to head an ‘independent commission' to investigate the police after the Bersih 3.0 civil demonstration after making statements that he considers the demonstrators at fault, well, it's safe to assume that objectivity or impartiality is not a trait or tradition of the PDRM. To throw out further documented examples would be pedantic.
It really does not matter who has to answer to what because at this point any answer will be spun politically (which usually means Umno-BN will be at the losing end) and also because the present regime since the tsunami of 2008 has demonstrated no serious commitment to reform.
Of course, I have not seen any detailed proposals of reform from Pakatan Rakyat beyond the superficial appeals to emotion but as always, the devil is in the details.
Right now we are witness to the power plays which went on between two former high-ranking police officers which no doubt crosses from the bureaucratic to criminal if the allegations and counter-allegations are to be believed. It also highlights the shadowy nexus between organised crime and law enforcement with added racial overtones, which is naturally par for the course in this country.
Not only that, but we have a former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief joining PAS to "uphold democracy", which implies that his tenure as a high-ranking police official, not to mention not throwing in with Umno (if his former occupation was not that in spirit), did nothing to further the said aspiration.
Some would cheer at such a development but we should be cautious of former civil servants, especially those from law enforcement divisions, overtly proclaiming loyalty to political parties whose stewardship of the country would ideally be only temporary. Of course, Fauzi Shaari (above) brings a wealth of insider knowledge which should serve the strategic objectives of PAS.
Not that I'm implying that he personally or that the opposition had anything to do with this anonymous letter but rather that because of the nature its anonymity, everyone is fair game. Not that it matters of course, whoever wrote the letter has struck at the always soft underbelly of the chitin exterior of the Umno beast.
Distrust of law enforcers
As usual, what I find of interest is not the corruption in high places in Umno and the opposition response to it, but rather how we as a society deal with it.
Because of the PDRM's inability to carry out the most mundane of police functions, a whole cottage industry has mushroomed providing private security to citizens frustrated by the fact that their security - in fact, their lives - depend on a dysfunctional police force more interested in policing the opposition than being an apolitical instrument of the state.
Depending on how much money is at play, entire neighbourhoods suddenly become gated communities (municipal laws becoming suddenly extremely porous) or lone guards man ramshackle guard posts, offering the illusion of security.
The fact that these security companies are sometimes run by former police officers or staffed by men and women who would not qualify (and unfortunately the bar is pretty low) to join the PDRM is evidence of how desperate the situation has become for those who use these services and how as usual in Malaysia, the lines between business and government is blurred.
There is a reason why in some place the PDRM work very closely with security companies but we should also not forget that in many cases, the PDRM is just relieved that they are getting help from the private sector although they have no problem taking credit (or as this current scandal implies, possibly manipulating the stats) for the reduction of crime.
Of course, not everyone sees the upside of privatised security. Most times paying for peace of mind - this is what those of us who pay taxes think we are paying for when it comes to the law enforcement agencies in Malaysia - means living with the fact that you are actually paying a ransom.
As one middle-class Malaysiakini reader told me, her neighbourhood had a spike in crime before the "security guards" came into the picture and suddenly there was zero crime. "What can we do, at least now we are safe even though many of us feel that we are paying not to be burgled or mugged".
A culture of its own
This explosive mix of safety fears and distrust of law has brought out so many interesting questions. Another Malaysiakini reader asked my opinion on guns.
"After a few burglars and car park robbers have been shot, they will think twice of attacking," he said.
I asked him if he thought that the mob attacks on captured snatch thieves had reduced said attacks - I have no idea, but I don't think so - and does he really think it's a good idea for citizens of a country with such polarised race relations and history of political party race agitation to have resort to firearms?
Guns are the solutions to a very specific set of problems, problems that the average citizen of any country would not have to deal with if it has functional institutions (some American friends would disagree with me, of course).
At the end of the day, there is nothing the PDRM can say which would allay the fears of a Malaysian public mired in partisanship and their own racial preoccupations.
The police force has become a culture of its own succoured by religion, racialism and handouts, riddled with corruption and sharing a symbiotic relationship with the criminal underclass of Malaysian society and beholden to political masters who have always been engaged in protracted internal power struggles.
But yet I can say without hesitation that there are still those within the ranks of the PDRM, and those who have retired, who are honourable and understand the value of a functional police force but whose ranks are slowly dwindling over the long Umno-BN watch.
If Pakatan is smart and if there is that much dreamed of (amongst a certain section of the voting public) post-BN happy ending, these voices would play a major role in the long process of reforming the PDRM.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.