Muffled voices of dissent greet reform

Muffled voices of dissent greet reform

Opposition is growing to the presence of non-police officials on panel revamping the force

Some influential police are livid that 'outsiders' including a former military supreme commander are being put in charge of reforming the force. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Some influential police are livid that 'outsiders' including a former military supreme commander are being put in charge of reforming the force. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Roping in the military and outsiders to reform the police force will pay dividends only if the changes root out basic flaws, including political interference and unfair reshuffles that have plagued the force for years, experts say.

Dissent is already brewing among some police against the reform being directed by the military through a panel which includes non-police individuals, a police source said.

The source said the officers were less than pleased the military is running the reform show when the police themselves should be taking control of the matter.

However, the officers concede the force was not united and could not muster the bargaining power to challenge the military. At the same time, police themselves have been accused of inviting political influence by allowing the reshuffle of officers to be manipulated by the politicians in power, the source said.

The 36-strong, government-appointed reform panel led by former supreme commander Boonsrang Niumpradit has caused a stir in the police force although the officers have avoided criticising their superiors backed by the military.

The investigation and crime suppression officers critical of the military leading the efforts to implement the charter-stipulated police reform were confident the force could manage its own overhaul if only the government would give it full power to accomplish the task, the source said.

One of the reform proposals is to establish an independent investigation unit, separating it from the interrogation function under the Royal Thai Police (RTP) for the sake of checks and balances. Calls were also made to set up provincial police forces which do not report directly to the RTP to make the force leaner and increase management flexibility.

On July 4, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an order appointing the police reform panel comprising 36 members, including Gen Boonsrang who is chairman. The rest are five senior civil servants, 15 non-police members and 15 incumbent and retired police officers.

The panel has been assigned to restructure the RTP's internal organisation, manpower and legal affairs within nine months.

Among the police members or members with backgrounds in active police duties are: National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda; Pol Gen Rungroj Saengkram, deputy national police chief; Pol Gen Charnchit Pianlert, the former deputy national police chief; Pol Gen Ake Angsananont, the former PM's office minister; Pol Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit, the former justice permanent secretary; Pol Gen Somsak Kwangsopha, the former Border Patrol Police; Pol Col Narat Sawettanant, Probation Department chief; Pol Lt Gen Kamrob Panyakaew, former assistant national police chief; and Asawin Kwangmuang, the Bangkok governor who is former assistant national police chief.

Among the non-police members are Thammasat University rector Somkid Lertpaithoon; Office of the Public Sector Development Commission secretary-general Thossaporn Sirisampan; and National Reform Steering Assembly member Seri Suwannapanont.

The existing flaws in the administration of the police force have made the reform a necessary task for the government. The military's role in getting the issue off the ground matters less than what the reform will deliver, said Pol Maj Krissanapong Footrakul of the Institute of Criminology and Justice Administration, Rangsit University.

He said society needs police who are professional and fair in enforcing the law and agreed the prime minister should take charge of setting the direction of RTP policies.

However, he said political interference had penetrated the police reshuffles, particularly over the choice of candidates for the national police chief.

If politicians had their way with the police shake-ups, the police would remain subservient to them, Pol Maj Krissanapong said, taking note of accusations of police investigations favouring certain political elements.

"The political office-holders should only hand down policies, not impose themselves on the police's law enforcement job," he said.

Unlike the British police, on which the RTP was modelled, the force has remained a bulky agency which has not decentralised its administrative powers.

Pol Maj Krissanapong said he understood the frustration felt by many officers who oppose outsiders calling the shots, probably assuming the reform would change nothing for them.

For instance, many police stations -- the "first contact points of justice" where legal complaints are filed -- are run-down and poorly equipped to serve people. These stations always eluded past attempts to improve the police force, he said.

Pol Col Cherngron Rimpadee, deputy commander of the Airport Immigration Department, agreed the RTP must respond to people's needs more effectively and be more accessible.

The police must uphold honesty, ready to be educated and re-educated to gain knowledge beyond their areas of expertise, he said.

The biggest issue which the reform must address is an unfair reshuffle. A system must be devised to justly evaluate officers' performances, making them the criteria for promotions based on meritocracy, not connections with the higher-ups.

"It's the question of fairness that must be dealt with first," he said, adding the powers-that-be must also keep their hands off the police force, otherwise the alleged position-buying would continue unabated.

Meanwhile, Democrat politician Witthaya Kaewparadai has asked the prime minister to put on hold the annual police reshuffle until the problems with position-buying allegations are tackled.

Mr Witthaya, who is facing a defamation charge filed by the RTP for blowing the whistle on the alleged position-buying, claimed police have submitted at least 400 complaints related to the issue to their superiors, but no probe has been launched so far.


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