The way to regain trust

The originally proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission is the only way to restore the people’s confidence in our police force.

OVER the years, recurrent reports of abuses, including violence against detainees and deaths in custody, have marred the reputation of our police force. The alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl in a police station lockup recently has the sullied image further.

The girl lodged a report last Saturday, a week after she was raped by a youth while she was locked up in the Miri central police station in Sarawak. Details of the report are indeed shocking.

She was apparently arrested on Jan 8 for suspected involvement in illegal gambling. The girl was then taken to the station and kept overnight in the lockup. As the only female, she was placed in a cell, separated from another which held 12 male detainees. The girl said the cell the men were in was unlocked.

She claimed that between 4am and 5am, one of the detainees, a juvenile offender, opened her cell door with a key and took her to the police station’s toilet where he raped her.

Sarawak police commissioner Datuk Aidil Ismail has since confirmed that two policemen who were on duty when the teenager was allegedly raped in the station have been suspended while a thorough investigation is being conducted.

According to news reports, the rapist was charged in the Court for Children on Jan 12 and has pleaded guilty to the offence.

The case marks a new low for negligence and misconduct in the force, giving rise to the perception that even police stations are unsafe for women. The supposed audacity of the detainee in committing the heinous crime inside the station beggars belief.

A “horrified and astonished” Sarawak Welfare, Community, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Sri Fatimah Abdullah was quoted in “How could this happen, of all places, in a police station lockup? Two crimes took place – a 16-year-old girl was raped – and it occurred in a police station”.

How could the youth have the cell key and blatantly rape the girl in a toilet without being noticed? How many police personnel were in the station besides the two suspended cops? There are many questions and discrepancies, including why the girl was locked up in the first place.

Human rights group Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together has drawn attention to obvious breaches of the Child Act 2001, noting that there was no need for the police to keep underage detainees overnight.

For non-serious cases, the minor should have only been questioned in a room and not placed in a lockup. The failure of the police to ensure that there is no association between the child and adult detainees is against Section 85 (a) of the Act, while Section 85 (a) requires suitable arrangements to be made to prevent child detainees from associating with adults.

Under Section 31 of the Act, sexual abuse of a child and even causing or permitting a child to be abused is a crime and offenders can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years’ jail or fined up to RM50,000 or both.

In responding to the case on Sunday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador vowed to act against everyone responsible.

While the assurance from the nation’s top cop is appreciated, there are doubts over whether the culprits will be held accountable for negligence or misconduct.

Based on previous cases of misconduct, most get off with just slaps on the wrists. Take the example of 34 senior police officers who were caught for being in cahoots with criminals. As announced by the IGP himself in November, they were only transferred to work in other parts of the country.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had a month earlier nabbed 10 people, including eight senior police officers, and seized RM100,000 in cash following probes into illegal gambling and for being linked to Macau scams. Seven of the eight officers, who held ranks ranging from assistant commissioner to deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent, were from Bukit Aman and the Selangor contingent.

By now, it is obvious that anything less than an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), as recommended by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police in 2005, will not be enough for the public to regain total trust in the police.

Certainly not the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Bill 2020, which was tabled for debate in the Dewan Rakyat in August last year but was withdrawn and postponed along with four others in December to the next meeting of Parliament.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism and other civil society organisations denounced the IPCC as not only a much weaker version of the IPCMC Act tabled by the previous Pakatan Harapan administration but an even feebler variation of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission currently in force.

The proposed IPCC only has powers to refer findings to the Police Force Commission (PFC) – which is headed by the Home Affairs Minister and with members that include the IGP – and recommend disciplinary action but no authority to compel the PFC to act.

While the IPCC can call up witnesses and produce incriminating documents, witnesses can decline to answer any question “which would have a tendency to expose the member of the police force, officer of a public body or person to a criminal charge or penalty or forfeiture” or to disclose information if the head of the department in which the witness serves certifies that doing so “is prejudicial to national security or national interest”.

With such ridiculous conditions, the proposed law to set up a toothless commission is a major step backwards in restoring the people’s confidence in our police force.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan is reminded of this quote by Edmund Burke: ‘The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.’

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