Police reform at standstill
The deadly shootout at an underground casino on Rama III Road of the capital, resulting in four deaths on Monday, is a stark embarrassment not only for the Royal Thai Police (RTP), but also for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It speaks volumes about how the promise of police reform the premier made several years ago while head of the military regime has failed to materialise.
Of the four dead, one was a police officer named Pol Maj Watthanaset Samniangprasert, an interrogation inspector at Samae Dam station. He was reported to have frequently gambled at the venue and that he was shot to death by a gambler on Monday night after a personal feud, possibly over unpaid debts. The gambler/shooter was subsequently killed by a man in the casino who fled the scene and at press time had handed himself in to the police. The other two female victims were casino staffers.
The illegal gambling den and violence were bad enough, but the sluggish reaction by the RTP and the Metropolitan Police Command giving ample time for the casino men to clear up the scene -- if not arrange a cover-up too -- just made things worse.
Initially, a senior police officer told the media that the premises, a four-storey commercial building surrounded by security cameras about 300 metres off Rama III Road in Soi 66, was not categorised as a casino because police found only one gambling table, and police insisted there was no closed circuit TV on the premises.
Typically, if a casino is raided, police in the area would face a charge of negligence of duty.
Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner Pakapong Pongpetra said that if police had solid evidence the location operated as a casino, its owner would be charged.
This statement only sparked a public outcry. It's an open secret that it was a gambling den.
In addition, there are conflicting reports. Police said they arrived at the scene half an hour after the shooting, but witnesses disputed the statement, saying it took several hours before officers turned up.
Clips showing casino men busily removing CCTVs and gambling devices, released yesterday by some media outlets, were a major embarrassment for the RTP and the government.
There are reports the casino operators have close connections with senior police officers. This suggests a client-patron relationship, with the payment of so-called protection fees, between those in the illegal business and the officers.
Prime Minister Prayut in an about-face said on Tuesday he would punish any police officers who abused their authority in connection with illegal casinos.
"Yes, the prime minister has total authority to oversee the police. The bad eggs will face punishment. No one will be spared," the premier said.
Each year, there are cases of police transfers following raids on gambling dens in their jurisdiction. The dens just get back to business as usual later. Neighbours said this den often was closed when authorities raided it, only to reopen afterwards.
The casino fiasco is one of many scandals involving the RTP. The police already have so much to answer for in the infamous Red Bull scion hit-and-run case that has rattled the justice system and the confidence of the public.
The prime minister must not forget that an overhaul of the force is needed urgently.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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