Have the Police lost public trust?

The police must change in their attitude to the public. They must think more about human rights, stewardship and duty in the public interest rather than their rights under the Police Act.


WE have a slew of unloved government agencies in this country, more than in nations at a similar stage of development, so I gather. Without exception, these are enforcement agencies. The antipathy towards those who work in these powerful organisations has less to do with the nature of their work which all law-abiding citizens support, and more with the impunity with which they abuse their powers, often ignoring the fact that these are nothing more than vested powers to be used solely for the purpose of protecting and defending human rights, first and last.

The Royal Malaysia Police, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as the leader of the pack, and this is a perception that will be difficult to shake off because there have been far too many unexplained incidents involving deaths in custody which have led people to believe that torture, in one form or another, is part of the standard police operating procedure. All this is unfortunate because in a police service as old as ours, it is replete with its own detailed rules and procedures governing every conceivable aspect of modern policing. So, what really has gone wrong with the police?

The only reasonable explanation we can offer is that because of the generally abysmal quality of the officer cadre, these rules are more honoured in their breach than their observance. All this leads me to my favourite observation that there are no bad rank and file, only bad officers. The Inspector-General must be held accountable for the present sorry state of affairs of the service. The responsibility is his and, this dear Tan Sri Musa is the ultimate price and challenge of true leadership.

Those shiny bits and pieces elbowing for space on your overcrowded epaulette have far greater significance than their decorative effect. They symbolise the power conferred on you to do what is right, according to the law for the benefit of all Malaysian citizens, without reference to race, colour or creed and for whose rights to safety and security you took an oath, a long time ago, to uphold.

The overwhelming majority of urbanites do not rate your leadership in curbing serious crimes too highly. Many, again rightly or wrongly, believe that you have reached the limits of your competence. It is time for change in the stewardship of the police: we deserve batter, don’t you think?

It is time, too, for the foot dragging over the IPCMC or to give it its full name, the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission to stop. As a member of the Royal Commission chaired by Tun Dzaidin inquiring into our police service in 2004-2005, listening to the many oral submissions, reading large numbers of written documents, and together with visits to the Hong Kong Police and Scotland Yard in London, I am more than ever convinced that there will be no change in the police culture of impunity until and unless Najib has the political will, and fire in his belly, to put IPCMC not on the back burner, but in the driving seat where it really belongs.

It works, with minor adjustments to suit local conditions, in the UK, Hong Kong and Australia among other countries that embrace unequivocally the rights of citizens to protection against the criminal elements.

The IPCMC is not about the chattering masses interfering with legitimate police work: it is there to protect both the people and the police. The police, believe it or not, need the IPCMC more than the rest of us in order to protect themselves against unfair and unjustified public criticisms.

The police plead for public support and cooperation in their fight against crime. They do realise, after all, that they cannot do it alone, but do they know why members of the community are not falling over themselves to bear witness to crimes committed in their communities? A modicum of human respect would assuredly help in restoring public confidence. Treat witnesses as suspects, employ illegal methods of interrogation and you turn potential friends into potentially hostile and indifferent citizens.

The police must change in their attitude to the public. They must think more about human rights, stewardship and duty in the public interest rather than their rights under the Police Act. They have chosen the police as a career and as the saying goes, the lot of a policeman is not a happy one, and for the IGP, whose own reputation is on the decline in the estimation of the public, trying to lead a beleaguered force out of unfriendly territory cannot be everyone’s idea of fun.

A man in his position should reflect upon the futility of holding the fort against a fast rising tide public opinion. An extension of contract? Surely not. Najib’s 1 Malaysia cannot take root and flourish in an environment of public indifference to the police in whom all trust has but evaporated. Police reform based on the 125 recommendations of the Dzaidin Royal Commission must be the starting point for a thorough overhaul of the Royal Malaysia Police.