NGOs have been decrying police abuse for years. These NGOs keep a tally of prisoners who have died under mysterious circumstances, have heard the painful stories of victims who are too terrified to make a report, because who can they possibly report to?
And when is it that the rest of us pay attention? When it hits a little too close to home. When a police officer shoots a young doctor in his car. When they storm a popular up-scale nightclub and humiliate the children of well-to-do families. When they mess with women who are lucky to have the support of their family, their country or the courageous Ms Kok and the press. When they blacken the eye of a high-profile ex-politician. Or when it happens to us.
If politicians stopped to listen for a moment, they would hear how widespread these abuses are. And no badge or lip service is going to change it. What might change things, however, would be:
- A firm and unanimous declaration of what is considered unacceptable police action and what will happen to police officers who tarnish the image of the institution. The punishment must be severe and public. No soft wrist-smacking like transferring the culprits so they can carry out their appalling behavior elsewhere. Policemen who get their kicks from making prisoners strip or perform sexual and/or humiliating acts should be sacked and barred from public service. They should also be prosecuted for abuse of power and as we would prosecute anyone who kidnaped and sexually molested a person.
- Continued public condemnation of such behaviour by recognising it for what it is - cruel abuse of power bordering on sadism. How many normal people would treat another human being the way bad cops treat citizens and guests of the country? How many of us would even think about taking someone helpless, forcing her to strip naked and making her do ear squats? It's sick. These people are dangerous and letting them go unpunished will only encourage the police force to breed and attract such people.
- To offer rewards to anyone in or out of the police force who is able to provide hard evidence that will help in the removal of bad apples.
- Investigations into public complaints carried out by a non-police unit. If no one is losing his or her job, if there is no one being forced to answer uncomfortable questions, if there are no cops in jail for corruption, the unit is ineffective Investigations should include auditing of an individual's assets, including those of his/her immediate family. We all agree the pay of the average police officer is disgraceful. By the same token, red flags should go up around any officer living way beyond those means.
- Psychological testing of police officers to screen for racist, sexist, homophobic or sadistic predispositions. This is not a common practice, here, I know, but reports of police behaviour makes it obvious that some of them are capital 'D' dangerous. And they carry guns.
- A proper government agency working for the welfare, concerns and rights of foreign workers. With one million foreign workers, there's about one foreign worker for every 20 Malaysians and that is a huge number of people we depend on. This agency should include a reasonable number of lawyers, interpreters and advocates and should have a number of offices around Malaysia in order to be accessible to everyone.
- This last one is imperative. Darn right Chinese citizens are not targeted. Or, more correctly, not exclusively targetted. The targets are more often Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Filipinos, prostitutes, transsexuals, poor people or anyone perceived to be from those groups. No group must be left vulnerable.
Finally, maybe cameras in police stations is not such a bad idea. In other countries, it is routine to film arrests and interrogations to protect both the prisoner from bad police and good police from unsubstantiated complaints.
If it is, in fact, a small minority of police who are corrupt and dishonorable, it is unfortunately up to the majority to admit the force's reputation has been tarnished and to take measures, even uncomfortable ones, to restore society's faith in its protectors.