Police reform needs to start from within
The tragic suicide of Police Captain Thawee Meunrak is only the tip of the iceberg in the chronic problem within the Thai police force. The real issue is the need to reform the force, which is long overdue. In the past few years, many police have committed suicide. Pol Cap Thawee, for instance, is believed to have killed himself because of stress related to his work.
A prosecutor who knows him said Pol Cap Thawee was well liked in his community. He had a supportive wife and a young child, but he decided to take his own life because he could not fight the system.
According to his friends and family, Pol Cap Thawee, an investigations officer, had said before his death that he was under pressure from his supervisor over the release of seized hire-purchase vehicles.
While an investigation into the cause of his death is not yet concluded, the tragedy nonetheless shows the pressure that low-ranking police officers encounter in their work. There are not only expectations from the community, but the officers have to satisfy their supervisors, who play a vital role in determining their career in the rigidly-hierarchical police structure.
So an unsupportive leadership tends to affect the performance of the people under them. Pol Cap Thawee, for instance, reportedly felt he was under unfair pressure from his boss.
In addition, some officers cannot shine under the current police structure, which is heavily political and there is often outside interference.
Police promotions are not always made on an individual's capacity or merit, but often depend on who you know.
A long-standing regulation allows the prime minister to have a say in the selection of a new police chief. The prime minister now oversees the committee to select the new police chief and the committee to oversee the management of police officers.
Therefore, there can be no real checks and balances between politicians and law enforcement because some officers would not want to offend the people who put their names forward for promotion. This has to change.
The present welfare and support system for police is also inadequate. Police officers are not provided with the basic requirements ,such as gasoline to use when on patrol, or weapons. Thai police also have to buy their own guns.
Police personnel don’t have adequate holistic support to deal with their stress, which can be cumulative. There are not enough psychiatrists or counsellors readily available to help officers in the field deal with daily stress, even though they need to have stable mental health to make sound judgements in life-and-death situations.
Not many police stations have community support due to the negative perception by the general public against law enforcement officers.
There is no excuse for police officers to be corrupt. But some police cite their low pay as an excuse to take "tea money" and bribes.
Of course, there are many corrupt officers in the force. Many senior officers are millionaires, but cannot explain how they have accumulated their wealth.
But there are also police officers who strive to serve the public. Unfortunately, they don’t have a supportive environment to help them do their jobs properly. Research shows that suicides in the Thai police force are three times higher than the national average.
According to his friends and family, Pol Cap Thawee was under stress because of his investigation into an allegedly illegal car financing service. There was pressure on him to release a total of 204 vehicles that had been impounded since November.
But investigation officers need time to check their cases, in this case checking the regulations and ownership of the cars before returning each vehicle to the damaged parties.
Thailand now has about 200,000 police officers nationwide to enforce the law and deal with an increasing number of violations, which tend to be more sophisticated as the population grows and lifestyles change.
Police have to be given more support and training to enable officers to perform effectively in such a changing environment.
The public should also be educated, not only about their rights, but also about their obligations to comply with the law. It would be more difficult for police to be corrupt if the public refuses to take part in bribery. Corruption is a two-way street.
It is essential to bring some dignity back to the police force. After all, effective law enforcement results in social justice and public safety.
It is a shame that many law enforcement officers have lost hope in the justice system. Pol Cap Thawee should have been able to find a solution to his problems rather than feel so hopeless that he took his own life.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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