Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Will vigilantism change the police?

By Multa Fidrus

TANGERANG (JP): Angry residents in Tangerang have mobbed at least 42 people to death during the last nine months, while police turn a blind eye as they regard it an effective way to curb crime.

Jaelani, a morgue assistant at Tangerang General Hospital told The Jakarta Post that from January to early September this year, the hospital morgue had received the bodies of 42 criminal suspects delivered by 15 police subprecincts. Some 12 out of the 42 corpses could not be identified due to serious burns.

He said that last year there were no corpses of vigilante victims delivered to the hospital.

According to Jaelani, Curug subdistrict was the area with the most active vigilantism with eight criminals having been mobbed to death, followed by Cipondoh and Batu Ceper subdistricts with six cases respectively.

"We're sick of criminals who do not hesitate to hurt their victims. Moreover, the criminals are usually lazy individuals who just want to enjoy their lives without working hard," Agus Mulyadi, a plant vendor who joined in beating up two criminals last month.

"We can no longer trust the police to settle these cases," Agus added.

Since the vigilantes are regarded as effective at curbing crime, police seem to have turned a blind eye and appear to applaud the bravery of residents who kill criminals.

Tangerang Police chief Adj. Comr. Affan Richwanto admitted that, as of September this year, none of those who had provoked a mobbing incident had been held since the police tolerate the actions of vigilantes in a bid to curb crime.

Affan denied that the police were afraid of dealing with angry mobs. But, he said if police arrest any suspects who have provoked vigilantes, angry locals will attack police headquarters and demand they be released.

"We regret the action of residents who take the law into their own hands. But such vigilantes bring positive results to our crime-busting efforts. Unlike in the past, residents are now becoming braver at facing criminals," he told the Post in an interview.

"If you were a police officer, what would you do if you found an angry mob beating up a criminal?," he asked.

When asked whether the vigilantes are a result of the fact that people no longer trust the police, he said, "If you claim people have lost trust in the police, why are residents of Bumi Serpong Damai housing complex, Cikupa and Teluk Naga willing to build police stations in their areas," he said.

"Anger and a lack of legal awareness have prompted people to kill criminal suspects on site," he said, adding that usually motorcycle thefts, robberies or burglaries encouraged people to mob criminals to death.

He admitted that vigilantes were unable to eradicate these kinds of crime. "As long as the country's economy is depressed, then there will always be criminals," he said.

But he noted the important role of public and religious figures in preventing vigilantism. "As people still respect them, they are effective in keeping people from taking the law into their own hands," he said.

People here are still willing to listen to public figures. But the problem is that public figures are not able to monitor the vigilantes on site as very often they operate far from housing complexes, he said.

Criminologist Erlangga Masdiana of the University of Indonesia said police should not just wash their hands of street justices. He noted that in the long run, they will have to reform the police.

"There must be political will from top executives within the police to reform its institutional structure and culture right to the lowest level," he said.

Erlangga also said that in the next ten years, it would be better if the chief of the National Police was a civilian, so that they could be considered credible, independent and complete reform could be materialized.