(Less) Power to the police

QUESTION TIME It is a matter of great regret that recent cases of gangland-style killings are being used to strongly lobby for the return of the infamous Emergency Ordinance (EO) or similar legislation.

It will be even greater folly if these lobbyists - mostly current and retired police officers, members of extreme organisations, ill-informed politicians, and those who want to please them - are allowed to have their way.

It is also stupefying that the police, who are against the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate their own kind who may be corrupt and have committed criminal offences, are demanding powers which will enable them to detain anyone at their whim and fancy.

If police think that such powers are necessary to curb violent crime, then surely they must be amenable to independent investigation of serious crimes, including murder in the lock-ups, by their own kind.

And surely they will also agree to a form of EO law which will allow detention without trial of police officers by the IPCMC if enough evidence cannot be gathered for them to be found guilty. After all, isn’t a cop who will murder and maim much more dangerous and vile than a gangster or robber who does?

The latest in the long list of existing and former police luminaries who want EO type legislation is one former inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Noor, hardly everyone’s idea of a good cop.

In September 1998, he beat up and gave a black eye to former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who was fixed up on trumped up charges of sodomy during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration under a law very seldom used, held for six years without bail being granted and eventually freed. Anwar was subsequently charged with another alleged sodomy offence, and found not guilty, but the government has appealed. The appeal will be heard next month.

Back to Rahim (right). He is positively the highest ranked police officer to have behaved like a thug and a gangster, beating up a defenceless and hapless former top politician in detention and giving him a black eye for the whole world to see ahead of his trial.

He subsequently apologised for the offence but his behaviour at that time must go down in the annals of history as a serious, and even unprecedented, black eye against the entire police force. If an IGP behaves like this, what can one expect from the force?

His is an example of how the top cop of the country abused his powers and vented his rage on a prominent person, committing a brutal crime against a defenceless person in utter disregard of what the public might think. His is an example that lends considerable credence to the belief that the police constantly abuse their powers. The tortured and mutilated bodies from police lock-ups is another.

Rahim’s interview in Mingguan Malaysia was also blatantly racist when he alleged that Indian gangsters prominently wore their theirgang numbers openly, like badges of honour, and kill and rob with impunity, in an attempt to lobby Malay support for preventive detention.
In for a major shock

If middle class Malaysia (the poor don’t believe it because they are regular victims) believes this gibberish that the EO and other laws such as the former Internal Security Act are used only against hardcore criminals and therefore support the return of the EO and similar laws, they are going to be in for a major shock.

Not only does the EO encourage laziness, laxity and serious lack of discipline (a la Rahim Noor) in the police force, they will see that an increasingly cornered Umno which fears losing the next election may well use such laws for its own benefit by oppressing political opponents and stifling any form of legitimate dissent. It has happened in the past so why won’t it happen in the future?

Anecdotally, horror stories have been related over the EO of which perhaps the worst is of underaged boys initially picked up for minor offences being detained for long periods of time.

The latest was a story in The Star today which highlighted the case of a person who claimed he had been detained after he wrote a letter to the IGP complaining that some policemen were running brothels. He claimed his life was ruined after that, and indeed it is usually. If you are innocent, you are not even allowed to prove that you are.

The Star has hitherto highlighted many articles quoting former top cops and others that preventive laws are necessary.

A careful examination of the facts will show that there is little or no correlation between the repeal of the EO and violent crime. First, the police figures themselves show no increase in crime figures since 2011, with total incidents of crime going down after the repeal of the EO and actually increasing while the EO was in force.

This has been fully explained in my column earlier and by many others. The misinformation continues to persist however and is frequently used in the lobbying process even as the police continue to be perceived as the most corrupt of bodies.

The police are fond of saying that following the repeal of the EO some 2,500 detainees were released about a year ago and these people are responsible for the increase in violent crimes.

According to Bukit Aman Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies Division (D7) principal assistant director Abdul Jalil Hassan, quoted in a report last month, police have detected 67 violent crime cases committed by former detainees under the EO over the first six months this year, a 100 percent increase from the 33 cases detected in the corresponding period last year.

This followed the abolition of the EO in 2011, according to theBernama report, adding that among the violent crimes committed by the former EO detainees were murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, criminal intimidation and rioting.

Tellingly, he omits to say how the police know this for sure. If they know who has committed the crime, the next step is to arrest and charge them. Why are they not doing that? Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi parrots similar claims but provides no concrete statistics.

In the absence of validated statistics and explanations, one has to assume that there may even be manufacturing of statistics to support the return of EO-type laws. These statistics must be viewed with suspicion and examined closely.
Cops should be required to prove crimes

Ultimately, the police should be required to prove crimes. Any other method is simply not acceptable because it concentrates too much power with them and the government which is likely to be considerably abused.

Finally, would preventive detention have avoided two recent high-profile shootings, one of a head of a crime watch organisation who was seriously injured and the other the fatal killing of a former banker?

And would it have prevented other incidents of violent crime? No, no and no, because in each instance, the police would most likely have had no way of knowing it was going to take place.

By all means give everything that is needed to the police to fight crime in terms of what they need to improve their investigation and find the evidence - no one will object - but don’t give more power, they need less. What they need most will be the most difficult to give - a few good men.

P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz. He believes in the old adage by Lord Acton - Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.