Police go cyber smart
Police chief pulling force into the 21st century by updating renowned training course, writes Wassayos Ngamkham
Widely renowned for his work as a detective before he was promoted to head the Royal Thai Police, national police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk has now embarked on what may be his toughest mission yet -- that of bringing the nations crime fighters into the 21st century.
Under his brainchild "Detectives in the age of 5G" programme, officers will be taught both how to intercept and interpret modern forms of communication in their pursuit of villains who have become increasingly more internet-aware in recent years, and also how to use these new channels for their own information-gathering exercises.
At least 80 detectives who pass through the first training programme will be given reorientation in a criminal landscape where a mobile phone can be a more valuable piece of evidence than a hand gun.
Pol Gen Suwat told the Bangkok Post that the present technological divide has given savvy young criminals the upper hand over a police force in which most officers are trained in traditional methods of investigation and surveillance.
Police cannot stick to the same old ways of the past but must reinvent the methods of catching crooks and bring them to justice.
"In other words, it's about enforcing the law and maintaining public safety using modern tools," Pol Gen Suwat said.
Although the course will retain a core group of highly experienced retirees who will pass on their wisdom and understanding of how the criminal mind works -- something which hasn't changed despite the new methods being used -- it's chief aim this time is to revitalise the efforts of the "Boys in Brown" for the internet age.
Back in 1996, arguably the best model detective course in police history was set up while Pol Lt Gen Sophon Waratchanont was serving as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB).
Pol Gen Suwat, who was at the time deputy chief of intelligence at the MPB, and Pol Lt Col Preecha Thimamontree, then deputy commander of the northern Bangkok police division, were recruited as trainers for the course, aimed at creating top-flight detectives.
Pol Gen Suwat said it was time to revive the course and modernise it. The officers will learn online swindling techniques, cyber crime involving hard-to-trace payments in crypto-currency, and transnational crimes such people smuggling set up using the anonymity of messaging services.
"These days detectives must be well-versed in the understanding of how crimes in the inter-connected world operate, such as transnational fraud networks which can shift base from country to country, with only the need of an internet connection to continue their operation," Pol Gen Suwat said. "Thailand has been viewed as a safe haven for too long by these gangs."
The course is modelled on a similar one conducted by the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation that has seen convictions soar. At the moment it remains a voluntary addition to the core training which officers receive and is limited to those under the age of 40.
The course lasts for 16 weeks and will kick off at the end of this month. The trainers are former and present police detectives who will impart their knowledge to participants.
They include former MPB commissioner Pol Lt Col Wannarat Kotcharat, prominent investigator Pol Maj Gen Preecha Thimamontree, former Crime Suppression Police commander Pol Maj Gen Kosin Hintao, former Yala provincial police chief Pol Maj Gen Thinnakorn Rangmat and Pol Col Theeradet Thammasuthee, deputy commander of the Narcotics Suppression Division 3.
Pol Col Theeradet, who attended the 1996 training, said he was proud to have graduated from the course, but acknowledged the need to update the handbook. "The training will open officers' eyes to newly-emerged crimes which have gone global and were never heard of in the past," he said.
Four trainees, accompanied by an experienced coach will visit investigative units in the provinces to acquire in-depth practical knowledge of a variety of cases.
Unlike in 1996, when many attendees ended up going back to their non-investigative jobs and failed to put the education to use, "5G" graduates will be fast-tracked into senior positions.