Cracking organised crime

Cracking organised crime

Police face obstacles in pursuing the gang who fatally shot one of their own

Police arrest Pongsakorn Suwanmano in tambon Tha Chamuang of Rattaphum district on March 11.
Police arrest Pongsakorn Suwanmano in tambon Tha Chamuang of Rattaphum district on March 11.

For almost two weeks a search has continued for three suspects allegedly involved in the March 9 fatal shootout with police in Phatthalung -- an incident that will lead to stepped-up operations against gunmen for hire and influential figures.

The shooting took place at Ban Tha Nang Phrom intersection in tambon Khok Muang of Khao Chaison district when police tried to arrest murder suspect Jamras Rakchan, alias Chui Khaochan, who is 145th on the Royal Thai Police's wanted list.

Mr Jamras and his associates resisted. A car chase and a gunfight ensued, in which Pol Snr Sgt Maj Anan Meesaeng was shot dead and Pol Snr Sgt Maj Chatchai Phantha-ou and Pol Capt Noppada Natthanapong were wounded. One of the suspects, Watchara Ratanasuwan, 47, was also killed.

Following the shooting which saw high-ranking police led by national police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk travel to the southern province for first-hand information, police obtained warrants for those who managed to escape.

Pongsakorn Suwanmano was arrested in tambon Tha Chamuang of Rattaphum district on March 11. He admitted his involvement and led police to where he had buried two guns used in the shooting.

A woman identified as the girlfriend of Watchara was detained for questioning and based on her statement, police believe Pol Snr Sgt Maj Anan was shot dead by Watchara.

The three other suspects -- Chui Khaochan, Atthaphon Mai-on and another identified only as Nueng -- were still on the loose.

The fugitives went into hiding around Khao Nui in tambon Khao Phra of Songkhla's Rattaphum district. More than 100 police were deployed in the search but they have turned up no traces of the men.

The national police chief has instructed police to track down the suspects as quickly as possible and given them a shoot-to-kill licence if they resist arrest.

Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) who arrived in Phatthalung hours after the shooting, told the Bangkok Post that modern-day crime often comes in the form of organised gangs associated with violence.

To take down these criminals, law enforcement officers need to gather all the information about their targets as well as people close to them, craft an arrest plan, know the drill about blockades and searches, and keep their gear ready.

"What's more, they must not drop their guard and can never underestimate their targets," he said.

Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said the suspects in the shootout reacted with violence, which raises questions as to why they have no fear or respect for the law.

As for the hunt, the CIB commissioner said tracking down suspects hiding in a mountainous area is a challenge especially when they are familiar with the terrain and the forest gives them a good hiding place.

He said if police are not familiar with the area and do not do their homework well, the chance of finding them is slim. In many cases, the suspects are tipped off by their relatives or gang members.

In urban areas, although suspects have various locations to hide, police can track them down from security cameras or accounts of witnesses, he said. It is easy for police to gather information when their targets hide in towns.

Mr Jamras, the key suspect, used to work as a logger in the mountain and knows the area well.

"We have to admit that there are people who don't want to get involved out of safety concerns. They won't share information with police. Some may think some state officials could be involved in criminal activities or can't protect them," said Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop.

According to the CIB chief, gunmen for hire are usually closely associated with influential figures who have contacts in high places. The weapons they use can be easily acquired via legal and illegal channels.

"About 80% of criminals based in the southern region are associated with the narcotics trade and weapons. There are legal loopholes and influential figures to help them," he said.

Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said he believes that to fight organised crime, police need to cut criminals' financial lifelines by freezing their ill-gotten assets.

Moreover, they have to conduct themselves with transparency, he said.

He also stressed that state officials responsible for gun licensing must carry out thorough background checks of the applicants and keep the weapons away from those who are not qualified or already have criminal records, even if limitations in accessing real-time data can sometimes impede gun control laws and criminal investigations.

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