The Royal Thai Police and its Crime Suppression Division (CSD) deserve applause and a chai yo. Their capture last week of the notorious Somchai Khunploem was classic police work.
Kamnan Poh, the so-called "Godfather of Chon Buri", was located, tracked and taken into custody without resistance or injuries. The two-month operation was worthy of a movie or television mini-series, and officers from the chief to the masked anti-terrorist squad who pounced on the fugitive had every right to bask in the glory of success.
That was last week. This week, there are questions about the case that still have to be answered. And even more important is just how the police intend to make all cases as successful as the Kamnan Poh operation.
Last week's arrest brought closure to an old case. It brought justice to both Somchai and his victims. It brought a message: No matter how high or how important your family and your connections, you can't escape the rule of law.
But is that true? Of course not, at least not across the board in Thailand. The important and influential still escape justice, far too often. The reason the arrest of Somchai was front-page news for days is exactly because it was such a rare event _ a godfather with family and friends and political connections sentenced to prison _ and actually landing up there. As journalists say, it was a case of man bites dog, the opposite of what citizens expect.
Low public expectations of the police have long been a serious problem for the country. Hours after the arrest of Somchai last Wednesday, Pol Lt Gen Pongpat Chaiyaphan, head of the Central Investigation Bureau, said the case "will help restore the image of the police force". That was a bold assertion. It was almost certainly wrong.
One or a few high-profile cases like the Somchai arrest will always be welcome. The image of the police department and the average policeman will never be improved until the long arm of the law reaches everywhere. Influence, family and money remain at the heart of massive abuses by the police. When these are eliminated, the image of the police department has a chance.
One of those lingering questions about the arrest of the fugitive Somchai is: Why? Kamnan Poh was on the run from justice for seven years. It was common knowledge that he sometimes stayed at his Bang Saen Beach home in Chon Buri. If police knew this, why did they not arrest Somchai months or years ago? If police did not know what was common gossip in Chon Buri, in journalistic and in some political circles, why not?
The two-month operation culminating in Somchai's arrest proved the Royal Thai Police can perform as professionally as any force in the world. What it does not prove is that it consistently does so _ or can.
Reform of the police, from top to bottom, is needed urgently. There is no shortage of qualified, honest and sincere senior officers, managers and police on the beat. The primary, obvious problem is that the dedicated policemen and women are mixed with, intimidated and overwhelmed by the opposite type of police officer. When sincere policemen take over the force, a positive image will follow immediately.