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On a mission to improve police force

HE was appointed as the country’s top cop in May 2013. After almost three years, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar is emerging as a pragmatic Inspector-General of Police. He has many plans for the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), is resolute in his goal to improve PDRM and has a no-nonsense approach.

The Star sat down with the crime-buster with the Twitter handle @KBAB51 in conjunction with the 209th Police Day celebration. He does not mince his words when it comes to his mission and vision for the force.

The Star: You have been a policeman since 1977 and the IGP for almost three years. How has PDRM changed over the years?
Khalid: The force is growing and developing according to the trends and needs of today. Well I cannot tell you how I have performed. I have a responsibility to carry out and I am doing it to the best of my abilities. If I have not performed (well) I don’t think I would still be here.

In terms of the goals you set out to achieve, do you think you have achieved them or is there a long way to go?
I do feel some of the goals have been met, particularly in trying to control crime and how to prevent crime. I have set up this new department - Crime Prevention and Community Safety Department (JPJKK). I am satisfied with them. I think it has bonded us well with society and is a very important element in crime prevention. I have been focusing on three issues and although have not been able to settle all of them, we are able to contain the situation. My three main priorities are prevention of crime, law and order and integrity.

Can you elaborate further on those three priorities?
On law and order, I feel with the Peaceful Assembly Act we are seeing good collaboration between the demonstrators and the enforcement agencies. At least I think they are listening to us when we tell them to follow the rules and laws. On Integrity, we have set up a new department - Integrity and Standard Compliance Department (JIPS) to oversee that. It is not easy to change the force over night. I know we need some time to bring all my men on the right track but we are doing that.

Of the three key issues of focus, which would you rate as the toughest?
Crime. That is our bread and butter. As long as humans live, crime will exist. That will be our main focus. We want to focus on our service delivery and abuse of social media while also maintaining integrity.

You mentioned social media. Is it an integral role of the police to monitor social media?
Issues on social media can escalate into big issues and problems. We must handle it from the root. We live in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. If you allow people to abuse social media, it affects social integration and this gives us cause for worry. If we don’t address issue at its base it could escalate into bigger issues. Maybe we are looking at it from the broken window theory. (A criminology theory in which a building with broken windows encourages vandals to break more windows and even conduct a break in.) Social media has brought changes to how society voice their opinions and comments on issues. Taking into account the diversity of ethnicity in Malaysia, there is a need for these views to be aired responsibly. In my role as the IGP, I have to ensure social media is not misused and endanger the safety of society.

Can you give an example on tackling certain problems from its roots?
People criticised me on the (Bebaskan Anwar) billboard issue for example. For certain people it is a trivial matter and they ask why should I get involved in bringing down the billboards but you must look at content of the billboard. The message on the billboards are aimed to incite people that Anwar is being detained as a political detainee. That is not correct. If we keep on allowing this kind of billboards to be put up, what’s to stop someone tomorrow from putting up one telling lies about Anwar Ibrahim. What is that going to be like? I told the YDP (local council president), I am fine with the words Bebaskan Anwar. I think that is fine, I requested them to cover up the word “tahanan politik’ (political prisoner), but they refused. So what else can I do, they say we didn’t send a letter but we did. Check with the YDP. We requested them to cover up or erase that wording. They said it’s a state government affair so they are not going to bring it down. Bring it down before you provoke other people. As you can see, certain groups have been provoked by it. We have to be proactive and handle it from the root. I’m not trying to meddle in peoples’ problem but when it comes to security matters, I will meddle.

In the current economic climate, is the crime rate in Malaysia on the rise?
Crime will always be there whether the economy goes up or down. Crime happens where an opportunity arises. If the economy goes down, there will be people taking advantage of it. If it goes up, there will also be people taking advantage of it. Criminals will always take advantage of the situation. Rest assured the police force is always one step ahead to ensure the perpetrators do not get way for flouting the law.

Talking about social media, some quarters have come out to criticise you over your “policing” of social media. Your comment?
That’s not true. That’s only 5% or less of what we are doing on crime. We have other serious crime issues to look at. But at the same time, we cannot just put aside all those people who are abusing social media. This is not just an issue in our country. My counterpart in Hong Kong shared the same sentiments. They are also looking at social media. He too has been criticised for taking action against those abusing social media. We have seen the impact of social media on some countries. From the rise of anti-government movements and things like that. Abusing social media is a threat we should not just set aside. Criminals too use social media. Love scam, Macau scam, they all use social media. We set up the Police Cyber Investigation Response Centre (PCIRC) to look into not just abuse of social media in terms of hate comments and such but also to look into other cyber crimes.

Despite efforts by taskforces like the Special Task Force Anti-vice, Gaming and Gangsterism (Stagg) and Special Tactical Intelligence Narcotic Group (Sting), certain members of the public view police in a negative way. Is this negativity directed at the police force or the IGP?
I have been in a controversial situation. But all is done for the safety and security of our country. If people say something negative about the force, it is not right. All that we have done is within the law, within the powers given to us and nothing more, which is to ensure peace and tranquillity in the country. Those who say I’m taking sides should look into the micro aspect of it. I have been comparing with my counterparts, even in Europe, they have not been perceived positively. Doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily make us popular. This is the syndrome of peace time policing where society is more demanding. But in times of darurat (emergency), the police are looked upon as the protector and the people won’t say much. We have to live up to the demands of the society.

Talking about demands of the society, how many policemen do we have now and is it enough?
Well, how many is enough? That is the big question. What amount is enough? If we are given the tech equipment to assist in maintaining peace and security, manpower will be a secondary issue. At the moment the police force is about 115,000 strong not including civilian staff. The Government has come up with a policy to halt any new recruits but of course when there are new balai (police stations) or assets acquired we need more manpower. If we are up to date with equipment, we can do away with some manpower. We always scout for new equipment in the market for policing.

What does police day mean to you?
It's a day for celebration, it's a day to look back at what has been achieved and what needs to be improved further in the coming years.

As a veteran policeman, what are your hopes as a policeman?
The police force will still be relevant. My dream is to see a peaceful country with a society that abides by all rules and regulations. Our presence here is to ensure our cucu cicit (grandchildren) live in a peaceful environment.

With rising costs in the country, are police wages enough or is there a need to increase the pay of police personnel?
How much is enough. The government has provided us with housing. If all is met, the present scheme is sufficient. People are saying that the lower ranks are suffering due to the cost of living in the cities. That is where the Government has got to look at our request for housing and other allowances we have applied.

As IGP, your duties are to take care of the country. As a man, as a father, as a husband, do these duties come first or does the country come first?
I’ll be serving my 40th year in the force, taking into consideration the average age of Malaysians, I have been in the force for more than half my age. I think my job has overtaken my personal life. My family knows me well. Whatever it takes, the country will come first. I can’t put aside work. I’m the chief of police, how can I leave my handphone ringing and do something else. I sleep with my phone next to me.

The public can be the eyes and ears of the police, how do you see that? Is there enough support from the public?
Support has been overwhelming. At the previous Police Day, we launched the community policing programme. I think the numbers have rosed from 40,000 to 90,000 now. That goes well with our tag line “Polis dan masyarakat berpisah tiada” (Nothing can separate the police and society) and we are increasing the PVR (Police Voluntary Reserve) unit. The Government has already approved 50,000 posts. These are the people who play the role of the eyes and ears for us, other than the Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch). All are important to us. This is where the JPJKK comes in and extend our hand to the community to work with us.

Last but not least, your message for the public on Police Day?
I thank the public for all the assistance they have given to us thus far. Our success is due to your participation in sharing information and working together with us. We need all of you to be with us all the time.

Courts Crime , police day , interview