Keepers of the peace

MARCH 25 this year is the day that the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) celebrates its 200th anniversary, marking two centuries since a Charter of Justice was signed at Fort Cornwallis in Penang. 

“Penang founder Francis Light first saw the need to form a law enforcement agency when the population of the Prince of Wales Island (as Penang was known then) grew to more than 10,000 in 1789,” according to state police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Koh Hong Sun, who has a keen interest in the history of the force. 

The first rudimentary law enforcement body can be traced back a bit earlier to 1792, with the formation of a ragtag team comprising an elected Kapitan (or Captain) assisted by five peons for each of the Chinese, Malay and Chulia (Southern Indian) communities. 

Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur, today the RMP headquarters, as it looked back in 1904.

“Other than keeping the peace, they also functioned as firemen and prison wardens. Whatever their duties were at that time, they were the first law enforcers responsible for the security of the people,” DCP Koh said. 

“Light had appealed to the East India Company (EIC) several times to grant him the manpower so that he could set up a proper police force but was repeatedly turned down by his superiors in India. 

“He found himself powerless to act against a European man who was involved in a murder in 1793 because the EIC had not given him the authority to act against foreigners,” he said. 

When Light eventually died of malaria on Oct 21, 1794, there was still no proper police force. 

After Britain’s King George III signed the Charter of Justice, locals were recruited into the police force with the signing of the treaty and received an allowance while Europeans were not paid anything as it was considered their civic duty to be policemen. 

Recruits undergoing training at the Malacca Police Training headquarters in Bandar Hilir in 1929.

DCP Koh said a second charter was issued in 1825, merging the Singapore, Penang and Malacca police forces into the Straits Settlement Police with its headquarters in Penang. 

In 1867, the force had to face a serious challenge during the infamous Penang Riot, in which the Hokkien-based Tua Pek Kong triad and the Red Flag Society battled the Cantonese Ghee Hin triad and White Flag Society. 

“The riot went on for 10 days and the Singaporean police had to be called in to help when many people from both groups were injured in fights that had spread throughout the city. 

“Peace was eventually restored and the triad leaders were each fined $10,000. The money was used to build four new police stations,” said DCP Koh.  

After the World War II, the police forces from the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States were merged to form the Malayan Union Police Force.  

Two years later, it became the Federation of Malaya Police when the Straits Settlements became part of the Federation; H.B. Langworthy was the first Police Commissioner. 

This exhibit at the Royal Malaysia Police Museum details the formation of thepolice force on March 25, 1807, in Penang.

The present RMP, which has more than 89,000 personnel, is a combination of the Federation of Malaya Police, the Sarawak Constabulary and the North Borneo Police. 

Post-war measures to re-equip and re-arm the police proved to be timely when a communist insurrection broke out throughout Malaya, leading to the Emergency in 1948. 

At the height of the Emergency, the police force increased its strength over seven-fold, from around 10,000 to 75,281, with support from an additional 86,000 auxiliary policemen.  

The loyal service and sacrifice of countless policemen during the Emergency was duly rewarded when the King conferred the title “Royal” on the police force in 1958.  

Around this time, more locals were promoted to senior posts in line with the country’s independence. 

Tun Mohamed Salleh Ismael was the first Malaysian police officer to be appointed the Commissioner of Police for the Royal Federation of Malaya Police. 

He took over the post from Tan Sri Claude Fenner on July 3, 1962, after the latter was appointed the director of police affairs. 

Tun Salleh served as Commissioner until March 28, 1966, when he was appointed the first Inspector General of Police. 

When he retired in 1973, the post of IGP went to Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim. 

Shortly after, in one of the bleakest days in the history of the force, on June 7, 1974, suspected communist terrorists gunned down Abdul Rahman at the junction of Jalan Tun Perak and Lorong Raja Chulan in Kuala Lumpur.  

His death was a big blow but it also marked a new era for the force when, at the age of 34, Tun Mohd Hanif Omar took over as IGP, a post which he was to hold for over two decades before retiring in January, 1994. 

Tun Hanif was succeeded by Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor, whose post was taken over by Tan Sri Norian Mai in January 1999, and then Tan Sri Bakri Omar (Nov 11, 2003) who in turn handed over the baton to the present IGP, Tan Sri Musa Hassan (Sept 12, 2006).