Police curb searches of foreigners

Police curb searches of foreigners

Harassment claims spur tighter rules

Police in the Sukhumvit area have been ordered to halt all searches of foreign nationals without due process following concerns of police harassment.

Pol Col Khajohnpong Jitpakpoom, the newly-appointed Thong Lor police superintendent, said unless a foreigner is acting suspiciously, his officers are prohibited from conducting random searches.

“I have instructed police under my command to strictly refrain from searching foreigners or asking to see their passports unless it is necessary,” Pol Col Khajohnpong told the Bangkok Post Sunday.

If a search is considered necessary, such as in a case where a foreigner appears to be “startled” by the presence of police, the search must be conducted in a public area under the supervision of two officers with the rank of sub-lieutenant or higher.

“But if the person sees an officer and appears to be calm, then we are not allowed to conduct a search,” Pol Col Khajohnpong said.

Complaints that followed a very obvious increase in random searches last year ranged from police demanding money from foreigners not carrying proper ID to bag and body searches and humiliating urine tests in public.

Out of the 297 policemen at Thong Lor station, 177 are patrol officers who roam the streets on motorcycles to ensure public safety.

But many foreigners who have been approached by the police say they were searched without any reasonable cause for suspicion.

One Sukhumvit business owner and prominent member of a private Facebook group which documents cases of police harassment, who preferred to remain nameless, said he was “stunned” by the news.

“I am very impressed that the police have reacted as quickly as they have done. I thought the Thong Lor pamphlet was excellent,” said the British national, referring to a leaflet issued by police explaining the rights of foreigners at police stops.

“But this latest announcement is extremely good news.”

He said halting the searches would go a long way towards repairing the relationship between Bangkok police and the city’s foreign community, which has been strained over the past year by the spike in claims of harassment.

“I think for a city that attracts so many tourists, it didn’t make sense to treat all foreigners as criminals without good reason,” he said. “I applaud Pol Col Khajohnpong for his decisiveness and prompt reaction.”

Pol Col Khajohnpong, who moved to Thong Lor station on Jan 15 from his old post in the Lat Krabang area, replaced former superintendent Pol Col Chutrakul Yodmanee, who was moved to a new position in Ang Thong province.

Since then, he was asked to meet with a tourism committee appointed by the army-led National Council for Peace and Order following media reports of intimidation and extortion targeting foreigners.

An internal investigation was launched in December last year, and has been continued by Pol Col Khajohnpong. However, he and his predecessor have not been able to identify any individuals responsible for the alleged harassment.

“It is our job as policemen to provide services to tourists rather than conduct searches. We need to create confidence among them,” Pol Col Khajohnpong said, adding that he has ordered an increase in distribution of the leaflets explaining foreigners' rights.

Patrol officers are not allowed to carry drug testing kits, he said, and the collection of urine samples for drug testing can only be conducted at a police station. If testing produces a positive result, a second test would be conducted at a state hospital.

Pol Col Khajohnpong said he would like all of his subordinates to undergo ethical and integrity training, provided that they have enough time to do so.

“I have told my men to speak like diplomats when they engage in conversations with people. They are asked to speak kindly, without any aggression,” he said.

“If we smile, they [tourists] will see us in a more positive light.”

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