Fair cop, guv - and here's your reward
Every time I see police displaying bundles of amphetamines seized from drug dealers in a crackdown, I always ask myself if the pills -- neatly packed in black garbage bags -- are really amphetamines. Could they be just painkillers? And why do the police have to show those seized items?
But when I saw national police chief Somyot Poompunmuang flaunting bundles of cash totalling three million baht -- which he was "rewarding" police detectives for arresting a suspect in the Erawan bomb case earlier this week, I asked myself different questions.
Why would police rush to reward themselves in such a way?
The suspect has not been convicted.
Even though the suspect, who is now in police custody (and nobody knows if he has a lawyer to represent him), possesses dozens of fake passports and one identifying him as a Turkish national, he remains innocent until he's proven guilty by a court.
Pol Gen Somyot said of the total three million baht, one million is from his pocket and the remaining two from his "businessmen friends". The police chief, who is known for his wealth, made the bounty offer after progress in the Aug 17 bombing investigation started to wane.
Unsurprisingly, the reward for the police sparked a public outcry.
Since when do police have to be "rewarded" for the performance set out in their job description as they are already paid with our tax money? Isn't a police force, as state officials, obliged to enforce the law -- arresting culprits, protecting property and maintaining social order?
Wait... have I seen this kind of "police reward" -- or incentive -- before?
I am sure most motorists and motorcyclists are more than familiar with the "incentive" police receive to boost performance among themselves. It's the kind of incentive they get on an everyday basis.
I am talking about traffic fines. Under the current system, a portion of the fine for every traffic ticket is shared among police officers involved.
With such incentives, I (along with millions in the country, I believe) wonder what exactly drives traffic police officers to impose fines on motorists: An intention to keep the traffic in order or to benefit from the fine itself? After all, it's hard to believe that stringent police checks on motorists result in better or safer driving. Look around, there are so many dangerous drivers out there who don't think twice about breaking traffic laws.
Besides, it's an open secret that instead of getting a portion of the fine, some officers make a deal with traffic violators and walk away with cash. Such a practice is a win-win for both.
As "scapegoats" are not unusual in investigations, I begin to wonder if there are times when some police officers get certain kinds of rewards for not doing their jobs properly?
What if every profession starts to demand the same kind of reward before they agree to do their job? What if a firefighter won't put out a fire that's burning down a home; a doctor won't agree to perform an operation; a teacher won't really teach; or a journalist won't do his or her job objectively -- unless a reward is pledged or given?
Back to the three-million-baht reward. I remember one week after the deadly blast, Pol Gen Somyot pleaded for the public to understand that the investigation was slow due to a lack of advanced technology (as portrayed in Hollywood films or series). Therefore, he reasoned, it was tough for police officers to track down the bombers.
The big reward for this bombing case makes us wonder if other police officers will have the resolve to investigate low-profile cases -- the cases that no one makes any money from.
But if police insist on maintaining the cash reward for this bombing case, there is a question about who should get a share, apart from the police involved.
Among them, the officials at the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission who helped track down tens of thousands of phone signals that were transmitted near the Erawan shrine when the bomb was detonated. These officials deserve some credit and a part of the reward.
Another option, in my opinion, is to direct the reward to the police office, using the money for better equipment or devices that will make police work more efficient.
This would be much more politically correct.
Without a change to the incentives-oriented system, we have every reason to be concerned. What if the system reaches the point that without the pledge of a reward, police suddenly decide not to do any work at all.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.