Scandal-hit police in need of reform
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Scandal-hit police in need of reform

The Royal Thai Police (RTP) have plunged to a new low as the race for the top job by the big shots, Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol and his rival Pol Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn, has turned ugly. The latest drama, which started with a raid on Pol Gen Surachate's house on Sept 25 by the Police Cyber Taskforce unit, shocked Thai society.

Newly appointed national police chief Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol, right, with his deputy, Pol Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn, on Sept 28 after Pol Gen Torsak asked Pol Gen Surachate 'to clear the air'.

Close aides of Pol Gen Surachate are alleged to have been linked to online gambling, with the deputy police commander crying foul, saying he had been framed and now had a tarnished image that disqualified him from being the RTP chief.

A few days later, the top position went to Pol Gen Torsak, the younger brother of ACM Satitpong Sukvimol, His Majesty the King's private secretary, despite being the least senior among the four candidates.

Extremely upset, Pol Gen Surachate threatened to unmask other senior officers in what would have brought the agency to a disgraceful end.

But for the public, such a fierce power struggle out in the open created more public distrust in the agency.

Rising public dismay eventually forced a "ceasefire" between the two generals. In a photo given to the media, both smiled as if there were no rift. But such a truce could mean problems are just being pushed under the carpet and out of the public eye.

Meanwhile, the people had hoped for a cleanup of the RTP.

Before the Torsak vs Surachate debacle, the public became aware of the shameful connection between a mafia kamnan (a subdistrict headman) in Nakhon Pathom province and some police officers following a party that ended in a bloodbath.

One police officer was shot dead by a kamnan's aide, who was later cornered and killed by police officers. Another senior police officer, who was supervisor to the dead policeman and close to Pol Gen Torsak, committed suicide, following what was said to be pressure from Pol Gen Surachate, who took the lead in investigating such a high-profile case. It is believed by some that Pol Gen Surachate played hardball against the former with an ill-intended attempt to discredit his archrival as the race for the police top post heated up.

Meanwhile, Pol Gen Surachate still owes the public some explanations over why he went on a spending spree of up to a million baht a month and why he gave out cash to subordinates and journalists to influence high-profile cases. He also rented three houses at a special rate from an influential person.

But all this appears to be just the tip of the RTP iceberg.

Over the decades, many police officers have had a hand in grey businesses, extortion, graft, links with Chinese mafia -- you name it.

One public case involved the death of a young drug suspect while in police custody in Muang Phitsanulok police station a few years ago. The culprit was a police officer, then a shining star of the RTP, who accidentally killed the victim while extorting him.

A notorious malpractice in the RTP is position buying, which has become the norm. Those who climb up the organisational chart in such a manner look to get a return on their "investment".

All such sagas attest that police reform pledged by the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration was just a cosmetic exercise.

As the public's confidence in the agency hits rock bottom, few politicians dare to push for reform. The Move Forward Party (MFP), which had unveiled quite a few scandals, has a reform initiative, but as an opposition party, it lacks the strength to see it through.

It should be noted that Pheu Thai, which is now leading the government camp, has no clear policy regarding police reform. With its many challenges during the transition of power, Pheu Thai needs support from those in the RTP.

Yet, the government and the RTP cannot allow this to drag on for too long, or the few decent officers among the RTP ranks will be further disheartened.

This dilemma requires attention from PM Srettha Thavisin, but his attempts so far to avoid police affairs by saying the agency must be treated with honour and there is no need for a clean-up have baffled the public.

As for new police chief Torsak, he is now obliged to kickstart organisational reform and, at the very least, give the RTP the chance to make a turnaround and restore the public's faith in it before it sinks into the abyss.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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