Renewed calls for IPCMC, but what is it? A refresher

PETALING JAYA: There have been renewed calls for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), especially since lawyer activist Siti Kasim’s arrest by the police on Sunday (June 24).

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said the arrest has further reiterated the need of the IPCMC under the Pakatan Harapan government's institutional reforms.

He said the IPCMC would be able to restore public confidence in the police by eradicating corruption, misconduct and abuse of power within the force.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah also called for the IPCMC to be formed, as Siti Kasim’s arrest was “wholly unjustified”.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen also added his voice to the growing chorus.

So what is the IPCMC about, anyway?


The origins

At the turn of the century, in the wake of mounting criticism against the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) especially over the increasing incidents of crime and custodial deaths, the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police was established in 2004 by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The mandate of the Royal Commission was “To study and recommend measures to improve police efficiency, to make the force more effective in modern law enforcement and to turn the force into a respected and formidable enforcement body”.

During its review, the Royal Commission received over 900 complaints of abuse, including deaths in custody, physical and psychological abuse of detainees, misuse of administrative detention laws, abuse of power, and systematic lack of accountability and transparency.


The report and its recommendations

In November 2005, the Royal Commission issued the “Royal Commission Report For Police Reform: Challenges and Recommendations” containing 125 recommendations.

It also identified three main challenges:

> The high incidence of crime and widespread public apprehension regarding safety;

> Public perception of widespread corruption within the police force; and

> Extensive and consistent abuse of human rights and non-compliance with prescribed laws.

The 576-page report by the Royal Commission said that these three challenges had caused a breakdown of public trust and confidence in the police force, which was “generally viewed as inefficient, uncaring, unable to prevent or check crime, infringements of human rights are extensive and PDRM is not seen as being transparent or accountable to the public”.

Among the 125 recommendations was that the Government amend relevant laws to make them comply with international human rights standards, and to take steps to eradicate corruption, enhance investigative policing, and improve police support and maintenance through measures such as better housing and salaries for the police.

In order to systematically address the lack of accountability for abuses, the Royal Commission recommended the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate police malfeasance and take disciplinary measures.


Who watches the watchmen?

As an independent body that will oversee and deal with misconduct in the police force, the IPCMC would be authorised to receive and investigate complaints against the police.

It would be able to initiate investigations on its own, and have the power to order any action it deemed fit, including discharge, suspension of allowances and increments, and demotion should a member of the police be found guilty of any transgression.


The report noted:

“… When officers act in contravention of laws and regulations without fear of investigation or reprimand, the culture of impunity begins to develop. Each wrongdoing that is not investigated or punished or is supported by higher ranks within the police leadership, leads to the perception that such misconduct is permissible.

As each new generation of officers observes and learns from their superiors, the culture becomes embedded in all the ranks of the PDRM”.

The Royal Commission also studied other models, such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission of the United Kingdom; the Police Integrity Commission of New South Wales; and the Crime and Misconduct Commission of Queensland, Australia; and the proposed Independent Police Complaints Commission of Hong Kong.

Royal Commission chairman Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah recommended that seven commissioners be appointed by the King for a three-year term, and that the appointments should consist of people from the legal background and not from the police force, and should not include any former police officers.

The Commission had also proposed that the IPCMC be established by May, 2006, which was during the premiership of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.


The long and winding road to …

Nowhere. It never happened. The proposal to establish an independent commission found immediate resistance from PDRM as well as certain political figures.

Over the past 13 years, there have been continuous calls by the Malaysian Bar Council, NGOs, lawyers, social activists and civil society for the need for the IPCMC.

Former Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru previously said that the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission Bill (EAIC), which was set up in 2011, would never be as effective since it could only make recommendations, while the IPCMC could actually act on its findings.

Thiru also said that the IPCMC should not be seen as an attack against PDRM, as its purpose was to strengthen the police force by improving on its weaknesses.

The EAIC investigates complaints of misconduct against 21 enforcement agencies such as PDRM, the Immigration Department, the Customs Department, Rela Corps, the National Anti-Drug Agency, and others.

The calls for the formation of the IPCMC are now louder than ever. Will the new government listen?

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