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LETTER | I refer to the Malaysiakini report Lawyer Siti Kasim arrested for obstruction over 'kidnapped' client.

Incidents like the above adversely affect public perception of the police.
Clearly, the public relations arm of the police needs to up their game.

Once it was enough to just press for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Committee (IPCMC) like NGO’s and activists have done for over a decade. Even that was hotly resisted and put in cold storage doubtless through the powerful influence of top people in high places.

But today, maybe the IPCMC alone is not enough, for power corrupts and we have seen it nearly render our nation into a dust bowl. We need to rethink the entire role of the police in a first world modern country.

No one can deny the huge role played by the police in the past 61 years in the cause of law and order and ensuring the internal security of the nation.
However, as in any institution or enterprise, there have been mistakes and excesses every now and then.

Evidently, the police force deserves a better quality leadership, a better, more focused organisational structure and better compensation for the men and women in blue who daily put themselves in harms way so that millions of us can sleep safely at night.

I wrote previously that local elections should include PCCs as well. So what is a police and crime commissioner (PCC)? He or she is an elected official in England and Wales charged with securing efficient and effective policing of a police area for four-year terms

An elected PCC, invested with the necessary authority, who fails to achieve effective policing of a police area, within the four-year term, could then be replaced by a popular vote the next time around. This is the crux of the issue.

If the various functions of government are supervised by the executive and legislature, then it makes sense, in a democracy that the executive and legislature is given a fairly short five-year term of office, have their actions and statements scrutinised by a free press and subject themselves to elections every five years.

Why should it be any different for the police, who are given vast powers to detain and arrest, in pursuance of their scope of work? I submit that effectively handling crime and policing for the community are issues of paramount importance that impinge on the daily lives of citizens like Ms Siti Kasim above and that we cannot just continue to hand over this to a particular agency and wash our hands of it.

It is unfair and wrong to ask us to simply trust that the police will discharge their duties efficiently and effectively. We ought instead to entrust that responsibility to police and crime commissioners and judge those PCC’s by their specific actions and public statements and the incidents that crop up during the course of their four-year terms.

Or in our case, five-year terms, to coincide with our state elections and later on, local council elections. If PCCs succeed, that enhances their re-election prospects. If they are judged wanting, then they will face the ballot box and if better candidates are available, the incumbents will be shown the door.

Now this is a workable proposition because:

  • The PCC has clearly-defined objectives i.e. efficient and effective policing of a specified area, doubtless with further detailed time-based and numerical targets.
  • The PCC position carries accountability to achieve those objectives. The state government (more on this later) will have invested the necessary authority for the PCC to exercise his or her functional responsibilities.
  • A defined term of five years applies to the PCC job. This can tie-in with the five-yearly elections for state and local governments since the PCC derives his or her authority from the state government.
  • The day-to-day work of the police will not be affected. However, the PCC must look into their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to see that these do not violate citizens basic rights under the Federal Constitution. The PCC must organise suitable training programmes and Codes of Conduct to execute their responsibilities. All police personnel will need to be retrained. Recalcitrant or ineffective management will need to be pulled up or replaced at the direction of the PCC.
  • The PCCs should be put in place as quickly as possible so that there are networks of elected officials responsible at the ground level for implementing and monitoring change in policing. To expedite change, PCCs can be nominated by the state governments first, to get things moving. Once local elections are organised, nominated PCCs can be replaced by elected ones. Of course, the incumbent nominated PCC who performs well will have a big advantage in contesting the elected position, once available.

Other than the PCCs, we can consider overhauling the six-decade-old structure of the police force:

  • The state police apparatus should report to the highest elected official of the state government i.e. the menteri besar or chief minister. Police crime commissioners should also report to the MB/CM through a PCC secretariat which collates their respective area reports and compiles a state-wide analysis for the attention of the exco member responsible, inter alia, for police matters.
  • Federal police authority should be reserved for handling interstate or international crimes. e.g a Malaysian FBI would handle crimes involving terrorism, counter-intelligence, cybercrime, constitutional rights, organised crime, violent crime and white-collar crime. The FBI director would be the highest federal police officer and reports to the home affairs minister.
  • A Malaysian Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA would focus on drug-related offences.
  • The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or MACC should report directly to Parliament and would receive its funding directly from allocations passed by Parliament. This ought to bypass the PM’s office as corruption is a national security issue as we saw from the 1MDB affair.

The way police operations have been conducted for decades hasn’t changed a bit despite the watershed event of May 9. Well okay, it's only 47 days.

But a systematic review of its operations must be expeditiously undertaken by the minister concerned and irrelevant, outmoded and perhaps even odious practices be identified for progressive elimination, root and branch.

The new government does not have to do this within 100 days or 1,000 days but it should begin getting this particular part of the house in order.

Because it takes a lot of time and because all roads lead to GE15 in 2023 which is only four years, 10 months and 16 days away now.

Once people have tasted changing a government peacefully, they know it is doable.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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