Bad cops and the Thai image
published : 21 Dec 2012 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
'I really want to go to Thailand, but I'm afraid that Thai police will plant speed pills on me and force me to confess to drug trafficking. I heard they do this often. I'm so scared."
This is what my Zimbabwean journalist friend said to me when we met at a recent journalist workshop.
Her expression reflected the notoriety of Thai police in the eyes of foreigners.
As a Thai, I felt ashamed to hear someone talk like that about our police.
And as a Thai, I knew she had reason to be afraid.
Thai police have been involved in many unlawful acts, and this has been yet another year tainted by police scams.
The most recent incident involved five police officers in Nan province, including a police station chief - they were caught red-handed last week at a hotel in Ayutthaya with one million speed pills hidden in a police patrol car.
The five allegedly confessed they had been hired for 2 million baht by a drug trafficker in Chiang Rai to deliver the pills to a customer.
Just a day earlier, four police officers in Nakhon Phanom were rounded up on charges of robbing two Lao businessmen of 3.5 million baht in cash.
In October, police launched a manhunt for their colleague, Pol Snr Sgt Manas Seupho, a traffic policeman of Pracha Chuen police station in Bangkok, after he was accused of being a key member of a drug-trafficking cartel.
Pol Snr Sgt Manas allegedly drove a vehicle carrying 1.2 million methamphetamine pills and 5kg of crystal methamphetamine through a checkpoint in Lampang. He later turned himself in.
In May, a superintendent of Sai Ngam police station in Kamphaeng Phet province, Pol Col Pichit Kromprasit, was implicated in the robbery of 2 million baht cash from a commercial bank's cash delivery van in Sing Buri province. The officer is still on the run.
Apart from these suspected criminal acts, police have been the subject of many complaints about dereliction of duty, such as slow investigations and refusal to initiate legal cases when damaged parties report them to the police.
The Saeng-arun family in Chai Nat province are among many people affected by alleged police negligence.
Chavalit Saeng-arun, 57, a respected teacher and conservationist, was shot at his home in Hankha district on Nov 27. His former son-in-law has been accused of the crime.
The teacher was seriously injured and doctors had to amputate his right leg.
The shooting took place seven months after the same gunman allegedly gunned down Mr Chavalit's daughter, Pornpimon, at the same home.
Wilaiwan Saeng-arun, who was married to the suspect, said police did not bother to arrest him after the first shooting in which her sister was killed even though witnesses clearly identified him as the culprit.
"We have been living in fear. We asked the police to speed up the arrest and keep an eye out for our safety, but nothing happened. Finally he came back and shot my father," Ms Wilaiwan, also a local teacher, told me shortly after the second shooting.
Her voice was full of fear and despair.
I can't believe the Chai Nat police left this family's lives at risk for seven months. Despite being informed about possible repeat attacks, police did not provide extra protection for them.
An officer in charge of the case said an arrest warrant has been issued for the suspect. However, he said the police have not been able to catch the man because "this guy is good at hiding".
The problems of cops-turned-criminals and negligence of duty by police have existed in Thai society for too long. More and more people have their own experiences with bad cops.
Among the many crises Thailand is confronting, I think the crisis within the police force is one of the most serious and needs to be fixed urgently.
This is because the right to feel safe, the right to feel secure about one's property and the right to justice when someone becomes the victim of a crime are the very basic rights that must be provided to all citizens.
The government's large-scale spending on foreign investment and tourism promotion will be useless because no one will want to come to a country where they feel unsafe and where they can't be confident that the police will help them when they get into trouble.
Kultida Samabuddhi is Deputy News Editor, Bangkok Post