'191 police' targets narcotics scourge
Demand for drugs is high but crackdowns have worked, writes Wassayos Ngamkham
Learning from a recent series of drug crackdowns carried out in several communities of Bangkok, the Patrol and Special Operation Division, better known as the 191 police, have realised that demand for narcotics is still high in many places.
The 191 police is an agency under the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB).
On Sept 2, Pol Col Piyarata Suparattana, chief of the division's patrol section, led crackdowns at 19 communities across the capital where rampant drug problems were reported.
Among them were Min Buri, Nong Chok, Sai Mai, Bang Kapi, Ramkhamhaeng, Bang Khunthian, Bangkok Noi, Lat Phrao and Phahon Yothin.
Police seized 80 tablets of methamphetamine, 46.7 grammes of crystal methamphetamine, 6g of Ketamine, one rifle, 50 bullets and one homemade pen gun. Thirteen suspects were detained.
The 191 police began focusing on these Bangkok communities after it learned from several major drug crackdowns earlier this year that some drugs seized in these crackdowns were destined for these densely populated communities in Bangkok as well.
However, most of the drugs seized were destined for the South where they would have been stored before being smuggled further to another country if they had not been seized.
On July 14, about 6.5 million tablets of methamphetamine, 600 kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine, 15.4kg of heroin and 41kg of ketamine were seized in new crackdowns, in which eight suspects were arrested.
On May 20, 11 suspects were detained in three major drug crackdowns, in which 6 million tablets of methamphetamine were seized.
Aside from these crackdowns, a rising number of cases of drugs smuggled by mail have also been detected.
Although the main area of the 191 police's work is crime prevention, the division is also responsible for suppressing crime, Pol Col Piyarata said.
The narcotics suppression police mainly work in the provinces other than Bangkok, while the 191 police work other stations under the MPB to prevent drugs from being smuggled into Bangkok, a gateway for the southern drug trafficking route, he said.
Drugs always lead to several forms of crime, he said.
Drug suppression work in a community isn't an easy task, he said, adding several techniques are being used to track drug dealers.
Tracking a drug dealer from their telephone use and financial transaction records were among the key technology-based techniques used in drug suppression operations carried out in the community, he said.
Sending spies into communities to garner information about trafficking activities is another common approach used by the 191 police to track drug gangs, he said.
"There are several communities that we have to continue working in such as Klong Toey," he said.
Another key source of information about drug problems in Bangkok's communities is the 191 police's crime report centre, he said.
While the police are trying to adopt new techniques to track drug smugglers, they continue to find new tactics to hide from the prying eyes of the police, he said.
One tactic is to get female or transgender smugglers dressed in skintight clothing to discourage male police at security checkpoints from searching them, he said.
These outfits are designed with hidden space to store drugs as well, he said.
A key challenge in drug suppression in communities is how to get people to divulge information they know about the illegal drug trade to police, he added.
Most people are either too afraid to share what they know or they are simply relatives of the drug dealers themselves.
"I'd like everyone to bear in mind that the drug problem really has a substantial impact on the entire society and they can be a part of the effort to fight it," he said.
And as drug suspects have appeared to become more violent -- partly due to their use of the illicit drugs, which make them crazed and dangerous to deal with -- as observed in the past crackdowns, patrol officers at all stations in Bangkok are now being required to undergo training to acquire new skills required for handling violent situations more safely and carefully, he said.
Such training can help contain a violent situation and also ensure safety for those involved.
Active Shooter Incident Management is the name of the training course being conducted at the headquarters of the 191 police and the maximum number of participants per course is 25, he said.
"Patrol officers normally are the first to arrive at a crime scene, so if they cannot do anything to control the situation, it may be too late to save lives," he said.