Policing the police

Te whetu Orongo

The way you make communities safer and police safer is through community policing.

Tim Kaine, US Senator

Some disturbing media reports surfaced recently that some errant enforcement officers of the police, army and immigration are involved in human trafficking business that is reaping millions in ill-gotten ringgit.

One such racket was recently smashed open in Johor Baru. It is tragically embarrassing to know that some of our border and security protectors are engaged in securing and protecting their own bank accounts if indeed they are found to be guilty as charged and sentenced accordingly.

The larger question revolves around who will police the police, a typical quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who will guard the guardians) situation as challenged by the Roman author Juvenal.

Malaysia has the Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) reportedly toothless and ineffective. Right-thinking citizens feel that a complaintis usually lodged after some undesirable illegal activity has happened, and not designed, and particularised for prevention.

If it were so designed, it would have been named the Independent Police Commission for the Prevention of Improper Conduct (IPCPIC). This could be the festering problem.

“The defining characteristic of a modern police force is that it is dedicated to prevention, which was not always thought to be the business of police,” wrote Michael Banerjee, a UC Berkeley PhD student studying criminology.

Closing the barn door after the horse has fled is futile in itself.

An equally vexatious question pivots around analysing the reasons for such misconduct be it bribe-taking, fleeing the country, custodial beatings, torture and death, failure to find the locations of certain fugitives, selective arrests, or unsolved kidnappings, etc.

The rakyat has to take stock of this dangerous development with meaningful and sustainable expressions of protests, but they usually come from the Bar Council and Suhakam with meaningless effect.

United States police departments are watched by an Internal Affairs Department which has exclusively different and separate functions reporting directly to the District Attorney, and not to the Police Commissioner, to bring in prosecutions.

Whether this will work in Malaysia is a hugely debatable question because we are totally afflicted by the patronage pesticide where political, wealth, business and social connections rule the roost.

American citizens have the right to bear arms (2nd Amendment, Bill of Rights), but the recent George Floyd murder-by-cops agenda, continue to grapple with a huge unsolved malaise where guns, police, obedience, loyalty and discipline vacillate between faulty, corrupt, dangerous and ineffective.

Fearless investigations and prosecutions also have a bad taste and stench when the ugly head of patronage pops up here and there to mess things up, especially investigations and prosecutions.

Legislation can never be the answer as we seem to have the leadership turning a Nelson’s eye to the seriousness of police misconduct which is the same perspective granted to constitutional malfunctions.

Some have suggested increasing the salaries and perks of law enforcement rank and file like in Singapore. But, will this solve the corruption pandemic?

One way that may work is for on-duty law enforcement personnel to keep their body cameras automatically fully on while on duty until they turn them in at the end of their shift for scrutiny and analysis.

At the very least, there will be clean records of how the day went by for on-duty uniformed personnel who cannot turn off their cameras which will certainly entail an inquiry if they do so. This may be a start to solving this mindless trend.

Another step is the Serpico detail where undercover cops watch their brethren for foul play. The real Frank Serpico of the New York Police Department took a bullet to his face.

Fortunately, it was a .22 caliber bullet which he still carries. Serpico detail, if introduced in Malaysia, must report directly to the Attorney General for onward action instead of filtering it through the IPCMC and the MACC.

The key is vigorous and robust investigations and prosecutions where prevention fails. With convictions come subsequent pardons which negate everything. The cure should not be politicised at all costs.

It may make sense for each Malaysian State to tightly regulate and securely control law enforcement functions instead of centralized control in the federal matrix like in India where each State has its own Director-General of Police while a separate federal police department operates looking after other law enforcement disciplines.

Ultimately, community policing may well become a permanent remedy and solution.

A watchful, vigilant, and conscientious citizenry is better than a standing army or a police force. Prevention should always be the preferred coin of the realm. We should concentrate in this crucial activity.

Sarawak is one up already with the leadership taking community policing seriously. If and when such prevention action is institutionalised, we will experience a corruption-free superior police force.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.


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