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perspective

Wrong response to an honest question


With crime and corruption unchecked, why are our police chiefs insulted when asked what’s going on?

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The topic of a recent panel discussion among academics – “What do we have the Thai police for?” – was bound to raise the ire of senior police officers. Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda, the national chief, publicly criticised the organisers, who’d worked in coordination with the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand. There was a threat of legal action against anyone involved who might be found to have besmirched the reputation of the police force.
The police reaction prompts two questions. Do the police really think the force’s reputation is one of such high esteem that’s it can be defended in court? And do they not realise that citizens at every social level have for generations been asking, “What is the police force for?” Among those who’ve wondered aloud about this are retired senior police officers and other ex-cops who grew so disillusioned that they quit to pursue alternative careers. 
Vasit Dejkunjorn, a former deputy national police chief ranked general at the time of his retirement, participated in the panel discussion. He acknowledged that the question posed in the topic is an old and familiar one – and that it seems to be heard more often these days. Vasit urged police officers still serving to ask themselves whether they’re doing their jobs well enough.
No one is suggesting the police force is devoid of officers who perform their duties efficiently and honestly. The core duty for the police is enforcing the law in order to curb crime and protect law-abiding citizens. The question considered by the panel concerned only those officers who fail in this regard and all too often do so while abusing their position for personal benefit, such as in the common practice of accepting bribes.
The senior officers who took umbrage at the panel topic should properly have hesitated before speaking out. In responding as they did, they showed a misunderstanding of the thrust of the discussion forum. No insult was intended to the police force as a whole. Rather than fuming in public, the chiefs should double efforts to weed out the bad elements on the force and get on with the long-promised reform intended to break the corruption habit. Moves in the direction of reform have thus far been dismayingly slow. Signs of bribery rot can be found at all levels of the force and taint every single officer. Reports are common of junior officers demanding bribes from motorists committing infractions. You pay the cop to avoid a fine or jail time. Middle ranks allow gambling dens, brothels and underground lotteries to thrive in exchange for cash payoffs. Senior officers are allegedly more amenable to promoting subordinates who have sufficient money to pay well for the privilege. Then there are the numerous accounts of people claiming to be innocent scapegoats in investigations conducted by corrupt police. Some appeal for justice from prison cells, insisting that falsified evidence and lying witnesses landed them there, and meanwhile the real culprits are running free.
The police force has long suffered from a severe crisis of credibility, as its senior command well knows. Yet the chiefs continue feigning ignorance of this fact, issuing stern denials and even threats. All the while the deep-rooted problems remain, flourishing in the protected ground of an old-boys network and self-defensive brotherhood. All the while innocent people continue to suffer. 
And all the while honest and hardworking police officers have to struggle unnecessarily against public distrust. If citizens felt they could genuinely trust the cops, the public would be far more willing to help the police in their appointed duties. We can only hope the good cops are not easily discouraged.

Published : February 08, 2017

By : The Nation