Wed, 24 Dec 2003

A middle-aged lady carrying a stack of papers rushes into the National Police Headquarters' detective building, mumbling almost hysterically as bystanders try to understand.

After a while, the lady, introducing herself as Christina, 54, leaves the building murmuring even louder, saying that she does not know where else to go if the police ignore her complaint.

"My neighbor has been attacking my house for years. I have filed complaints since 1996 to the sub-district, district and city police but nothing has been done so far," she says with confused eyes looking around.

She then asks people around what she must do to protect herself from her neighbor.

"I can't stand it anymore. Today, my neighbor demolished the wall separating our houses," she says while showing copies of complaint letters she had filed to the police.

"Has anybody died? Have you given the police any 'financial incentive' when making the complaints?" one of the reporters seated in front of the building asks her.

Christina looks to the reporter with a naive face, trying to understand the question.

Christina's case exemplifies the sluggish response by police, who often brag about being the servant and vanguard of the people, with regard to complaints filed by the public at large.

"Our surveys reveal that there is an increase in criminal cases but a decrease in the rate of cases completed this year compared to last year," Police Watch chairman Rashid H. Lubis tells The Jakarta Post.

The Surabaya police in East Java, for example, solve only one or two cases out of 30 cases reported every week, according to the survey. In Surakarta, with fewer cases reported, police can solve only one case on average each week.

This performance is reflected also in corruption cases at the national level. The State Audit Body (BPK) has reported 50 cases to the police but so far only 3 cases have gone to court this year.

Lubis also complains that crimes committed by police personnel have increased over the past year. According to the Police Watch survey, there were 200 cases per month, on average, in the first three months of 2003 compared to only 174 cases per month in 2002.

"The saddest thing is that there is an increase in crimes being committed by police officers in many areas across the country. For example, Jakarta police personnel have reportedly committed 234 criminal acts through the first 11 months of this year, an increase from 206 in all of last year," Lubis says.

The public's perception of the police, however, has tended to improve, thanks to their success in investigating the Bali bombings on Oct. 12, 2002 and the JW Marriott Hotel attacks in Jakarta on Aug. 5, 2003.

A poll by Kompas newspaper in June showed that the number of people who hold a good image about the police in terms of their behavior as professionals and the ability to handle cases increased to 41.2 percent in 2003 from 26.6 percent in 2002, while people who have a bad image of the institution decreased to 47.4 percent from 62.9 percent in 2002.

"We must acknowledge that the police have successfully solved several cases, especially high-profile terrorism cases in Bali and at the Marriott," says Lubis.

Police have arrested over 50 suspects in the two incidents, which have been blamed on the regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). Police have so far arrested over 50 people for their alleged roles in the blasts that killed more 200 people and injured over 250,000 others. Three of the 30 suspects in the Bali bombing have been sentenced to death.

With their successful investigation into the Bali and Marriott attacks, public opinion on the professionalism of police also has moved to a favorable outlook to 39 percent from 19.3 percent last year.

Unfortunately, people's perception about the ability of police to handle corruption cases remains very low, with only 6 percent saying that police can resolve the cases properly down from over 10 percent last year.

Adrianus Meliala, a noted criminologist from the University of Indonesia, however, questioned the success of the police in tracking down members of JI terrorist network in the country, saying that police should be more concerned with crime prevention than crime solving.

"They should prevent crimes from taking place because this is more important than solving existing cases. Failing to do so leads to recurrences of many crimes," Adrianus says.

He stresses that terrorism cases and other unusual cases distract police from their regular task of serving and protecting the public as well as handling day-to-day complaints.

"Their successes have been achieved at the expense of their regular duty because with the existing personnel, funds and equipment police can't do their regular tasks properly," says Adrianus, who is also an advisor to National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar.

Adrianus, however, acknowledges that it is not realistic to put high expectations on the police force with the current limited funding.

"Only 30 percent of the police budget is provided by the State Budget. The remaining 70 percent have to be covered by other sources," he says.

According to Adrianus, budget constraints have pushed police to engage in illegal activities such as extortion, blackmail and sponsoring illicit activities.

"Forget about a good police force if we can't solve the current problem of funding," Adrianus stresses.

Lubis suggests that local administrations allocate a certain amount of their budgets for police in their respective regencies.

"The Depok city council has provided extra funding for the Depok police for two years now. Therefore, the council can ask police to secure areas based on people's need and they will respond," said Lubis.

He, however, warns that such cooperation -- in this country -- could lead to possible collusion between the police and the local government officials.

Funding is not the only problem the police have. A lack of external control and professionalism, including the old mentality and culture and inadequate capability, have been pinpointed as some of major problems faced by the country's police force.

"Most police personnel live with their old culture such as the habit to be served rather than serving and the rigid bottom-up style. These chronic habits die hard because they enjoy the habits," says Adrianus.

Meanwhile, Lubis stresses the importance of police personnel's expertise in doing their every day work, saying that the nine- month police training course is inadequate to produce qualified personnel.

"We can't expect to have ready-to-use personnel in nine months. In fact, they will interact with more educated members of the society. In addition, the current practice of giving only three bullets for each personnel to practice shooting is far from enough. Not surprisingly, many police personnel misfire or shoot innocent bystanders when an actual crime is taking place," says Lubis.

Successfully carrying out their daily duties is one thing, while controlling their other activities and preventing the law enforcers from breaking the law is another thing. As a result of that dilemma, Adrianus and Lubis agree that greater external control should be imposed on the police institution.

"The police are currently like hermaphrodites, in the sense that they do all the functions themselves, like planning, budgeting, executing and controlling their activities. Almost no public access and control of the institution is done by external agencies," says Adrianus.

He also says that the national government institutions like the President's office or the House are not able monitor the police effectively because they have insufficient data or knowledge about how the police work. According to Adrianus, other controlling parties such as non-governmental organizations and the press can only put a limited amount of pressure on them, but do not have any real power to affect the police's performance.

Adrianus stresses the importance of real reform within the police force to address the problems. He adds that the existing reform path currently underway by the police is far from adequate since there is no timeframe and no benchmarks to measure or assess the progress of such reforms. He also says that six years after the reformasi movement began, the police are still muddling through a slow transition.

"Reforms should deal with the structure and culture of the police as well as laws that regulate the police. Structural and regulatory reforms have been done quite well so far. They (police) should now focus on the cultural reform," says Adrianus.

Lubis and Adrianus, however, have different views on how to address the lack of external control of the police. Lubis is optimistic about the effectiveness of the planned Police Commission -- an independent body to supervise the police -- while Adrianus doubts it will be effective.

"Compared to other supervisory bodies such as the Anticorruption and Ombudsman Commissions, the planned Police Commission is a "transvestite" body because, in the end, it is just a dressed up advisory body that reports to the President," Adrianus argues.