Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Reforming the Royal Malaysian Police

Written by johnleemk on 11:14:55 am Apr 10, 2007.

Not too long ago, a survey of Malaysians found that the Police are the least-trusted institution in Malaysia. This isn't particularly surprising, mainly for two reasons.

The first is that there's clear evidence the Police aren't doing their job, as shown by the increasing crime rate. The second is that there's just as unequivocal proof that many officers are actually committing petty crimes, and in worser cases, violating basic civil rights.

The first problem of ever-rising crime should be apparent to all Malaysians, especially those in the crime-ridden urban areas. Even in the rural areas, it's not necessarily a given that there's little crime; my father once recounted how several of his dogs died of poisoning when robbers attempted to break in to my grandfather's shop. This was about 35 or 40 years ago, and considering how far the force has fallen, it's difficult to see how things can have improved since then.

As for urban areas, consider one simple statistic: in Kuala Lumpur alone, over the last three months (i.e. from January to March 2007), crime has increased 40%. This isn't a fantastical figure concocted by irresponsible bloggers; it's straight from the mouth of the Deputy Internal Security Minister, who has been eager to lay the blame at the feet of the Police.

Meanwhile, the main selling point of more and more new housing estates is that they are "gated and guarded communities". The theme is security — security that the government and Police seem utterly incapable of providing.

People are now forced to lock themselves into enclaves, and hire private guards to assure their personal safety and the security of their property. Worse still, this isn't just a fetish of the upper class; many middle class housing estates are also "gated and guarded".

Tales abound of the total lack of security provided by the Police. As the infamous Nazri Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, has recounted, his own house has been burgled on more than one occasion. A retired veteran police officer in his 80s died after fighting off burglars at his home just a few months back.

And bloody hell, I still remember the newspapers carrying stories of how some robbers had the gall to steal the metal decor from the fences of a royal palace just a year or two back! If even the Sultans can't expect protection from the Police, who the heck can?

Then there's the problem with many Police officers themselves being criminals in their own right. It's not for no good reason that the Polis Di-Raja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Police) has become known as Polis Raja Di Malaysia (Police Are Kings in Malaysia). The fact is, many officers seem to think they are above the law.

Take, for instance, one of the most common problems encountered by Malaysian motorists. Every so often, the motorist is forced to pull over at a convenient road block (usually in a shaded area for the comfort of the boys in blue), and informed of some petty offense.

Rather than be forced to take a trip to the local council offices and pay a fine, suggests the friendly officer, why not just pony up a little duit kopi? Most people would hardly turn the offer down.

And, of course, we have worse instances of crime. Not too long ago, there was the infamous Squatgate — where a Police officer made a female detainee strip nude and do squats (ostensibly to check for smuggled items in body cavities; medical authorities suggest this is an ineffective method of dislodging anything in those... areas). I have not heard much of the case since; I don't even know if the officer(s) at fault were ever brought to justice, though last I heard, there was an ongoing court case related to the matter.

These problems with the Police are wholly unnecessary and can easily be remedied. To tackle crime and also reduce instances of bribery, simply pay officers a competitive salary.

In Singapore, they have a police of paying Ministers and civil servants salaries that are commensurate with what they could fetch in the private sector, given their qualifications. Why can't we have this policy here? We're an oil-rich nation after all, and it's a better investment than many things we've been recklessly spending our money on.

Even if paying Police officers and civil servants a truly competitive wage is impractical, what's undeniable is that given their low salaries, it's unsurprising they are unmotivated and seek bribes, while many are deterred from joining the force. I can't imagine people living on the salary of a constable, especially given the rising costs of living. (Though I suppose the non-pecuniary perks of being a public servant do somewhat cushion these costs.)

At the same time, when we pay our officers more, our expectations of them must rise commensurately. We should not balk at sacking any officer caught in the act of bribery. A clear and unequivocal message must be sent: bribes are not to be tolerated.

It goes without saying that those caught engaging in other sorts of hanky-panky (e.g. Squatgate) must be subject to similar punishment. Meanwhile, those who do perform well must be recognised and promoted; applying the carrot and the stick goes a long way. We can expect a more efficient force if we give our officers incentives to do their job well.

Last but not least, an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) must be set up. This was proposed by the Royal Commission formed to recommend improvements in our Police force, but like most of the Commission's other recommendations, has been tossed aside. The Police even threatened to vote for the opposition (a sad reflection of how ridiculous Malaysian politics is) if the IPCMC was set up.

Although some of their criticisms (e.g. no possibility of appeal from the IPCMC's decisions) do hold water, this is hardly a reason to reject the idea wholesale. An IPCMC would create further incentives for the Police force to do their job well.

It isn't too hard to to get the Police back on its feet. The fast-deteriorating crime rate, combined with the utter lack of trust held by the public in it, make it imperative for the Royal Malaysian Police not to stall in implementing reforms. This is not the time to dally.

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