LFL executive director Eric Paulsen gives IGP Mohamad Fuzi Harun some advice on managing the police force.
By Eric Paulsen
We at Lawyers for Liberty congratulate Mohamad Fuzi Harun on your recent promotion as the new inspector-general of police. As you may know, we work on numerous human rights and constitutional issues, and in the process we have had more than our fair share of run-ins with the police. And so we thought it would be a good idea to give our top five recommendations as you begin your tenure as the head of the police force.
1. Eradicate corruption from your ranks
We all know that corruption is a scourge that deeply affects the efficacy of all state institutions, including the police. We also know that the police are not held in the best esteem by the rakyat, and a major reason for that is the corruption endemic to it.
In the Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) Global Corruption Barometer 2017, which surveyed the public’s perceptions of corruption, the police unsurprisingly scored the highest among institutions perceived to be involved in corruption and where interviewees had actually paid a bribe.
TI-M also noted that the police rank the highest in bribery risk, and that this would seriously undermine the quality and fairness of the police force.
Your officers should lead by example and ensure that bribes are neither solicited nor received, and that perpetrators of corruption are dealt with seriously. If public confidence is to be regained, we strongly recommend that you impose a zero-tolerance policy and take assertive action in doing whatever it takes to eliminate corruption from your ranks.
2. Ensure that the police are independent and fair
Another factor contributing to declining public confidence in the police force is the perception that they are less than even-handed when handling politically motivated cases.
In many instances, the police are not the non-partisan law enforcement agency they should be. Instead, they become an arm of the government, misused to defend the prime minister and his government and policies, perhaps best exemplified by the massive 1MDB scandal and the failure to bring the perpetrators to justice.
There are numerous politically motivated cases involving the Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act being used against dissidents, civil society and the opposition while a blind eye is turned to pro-government troublemakers.
Such selective and double standard investigations belong to an authoritarian state, not Malaysia’s constitutional democracy. In order for us to flourish as a nation, fundamental freedoms, rule of law, free and fair election and other democratic ideals must be protected not curtailed for the benefit of the government of the day.
We implore you to change this for the better as a politicised police force will struggle to gain the public’s trust. This will invariably affect the police’s ability to fulfil their duties and responsibilities to the rakyat, and in the long run, everybody loses.
3. Stop with the frivolous investigations
Over the past several years, there has been a marked increase in the number of frivolous investigations, with many of these under archaic laws that have no place in a democratic society – the most culpable being the Sedition Act.
Whether investigations are under other laws including the Penal Code, Peaceful Assembly Act or Communications and Multimedia Act, the powers that are vested in the police to investigate alleged offences come with a necessary degree of discretion and good faith.
Not all police reports against critics or political opponents of the government must be investigated, especially if they are done by online trolls or disgruntled pro-government individuals. You should also note that in many instances, it is the police themselves who have lodged the reports.
Why is it necessary for the police to get involved in these cases – “insulting” remarks on social media, sedition or peaceful assemblies – that are more political in nature?
Your predecessor shares something in common with many of us at LFL – we all maintain an active presence on Twitter. We don’t discourage you from being tech savvy for the betterment of the police force, but please don’t end up being the Twitter police like your predecessor.
In this regard, you should direct the Police Cyber Investigations Response Centre to no longer target frivolous social media issues but to focus on genuine cyber crimes, especially online fraud.
The public should be able to trust you and your officers to exercise your powers fairly and sensibly. Focus on the important issues, like combating real crimes rather than imaginary ones on social media, or political offences.
4. Allocate resources proportionately
For 2017, the prime minister allocated a whopping RM8.7 billion to the police. Despite this, a large number of police stations are in sorry states and lack proper facilities.
Just about a week ago, one of your officers was tragically murdered while on duty at a police station in Subang Jaya. There were no other officers around and no CCTV recordings of the incident. How could this have happened? How is the public to feel protected by the police if they don’t have the resources to protect themselves?
Too many resources are being allocated to departments with little impact on real policing, ie. on the prevention and detection of crime, and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders.
We do not have the latest figures but previous statistics have shown that the Special Branch has a disproportionate allocation of resources compared to the Criminal Investigations Department, which should be the mainstay of the police force.
Instead of pouring disproportionate amounts of resources into the Special Branch, more resources should be put into increasing the police’s capacity for genuine criminal investigations (as opposed to be being dependent on preventive laws like the Prevention of Crime Act and Security Offences [Special Measures] Act).
We would support recommendations for the overall improvement of all police station facilities, especially lock-up conditions, installation of CCTVs, better and up-to-date equipment, investigation techniques and wages that will all be for the betterment and morale of the police force.
5. Put an end to deaths in custody
S Balamurugan, N Dharmendran, P Karuna Nithi, Syed Mohd Azlan, P Chandran – are all individuals who died while under the custody of your officers.
Their deaths were all avoidable tragedies as can be seen from the inquiries and inquests done. And yet very little action is taken against the police personnel involved or to ensure compliance with standard operating procedures so that future deaths can be avoided.
Life goes on for the police personnel and stations involved but sadly not for the family members who have lost their loved ones.
The frequency of custodial death cases should not come as a shock as according to police statistics, the number of detainees who died while under their custody from 2000 to 2014 was 255.
Of course, not all were due to torture or neglect, but the police must still assume a measure of responsibility for all those who died under their care.
You only need to look at the shocking details of police brutality and callousness that have emerged from the recent Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission inquiry into the death of S Balamurugan. What is to say that similar facts were not present in other cases of custodial deaths where no inquest or inquiry was held?
We urge you to implement the most important reform proposed over a decade ago by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Police (2005) – the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.
This way, the public can be confident that the police are being held to account by an independent and impartial oversight body rather than the present practice where custodial deaths will only be investigated by the police (except for the odd inquests and inquiries).
We are hopeful that you will bring meaningful change to the administration of the police as all of us have a stake in a more democratic and safer Malaysia. Your decades of service and experience will be invaluable in ensuring that the police force serve the rakyat well and that our police will be held in high regard once again.
We wish you the best of luck.
Eric Paulsen is executive director of Lawyers for Liberty
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
The views expressed in the contents are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of FMT.