A plethora of extortion and bribery scandals involving police officers have reminded the public yet again of the long-overdue mission to reform the country’s police force.
Last month, three police from Provincial Police Region 8 were rounded up by local fishers in tambon Thung Kong in Kanchanadit district of Surat Thani after they accused the officers of demanding a sum of five million baht from them.
According to their supervisors, the three are facing an investigation.
Earlier, in March, five police officers based in Chiang Mai’s Mae Ai district turned into an extortion gang when they demanded 300,000 baht from a man whose wife did not have an ID card to identify herself at a checkpoint. The man posted a story on Facebook that led to a probe which subsequently found the officers guilty.
In Pattaya, a police officer was found to be a member of a kidnap gang and claiimed a 300,000-baht ransom from a local businessman. Allegations also emerged that this officer faced previous probes over several kidnapping cases but managed to get off scot-free for “lack of evidence”.
In Samut Prakan, a police station in Bang Phli district was nearly abandoned as 10 officers were transferred after it was found they had demanded 130,000 baht from a drug suspect in exchange for her release.
Typical incidents of misconduct involve extortion, abuse of power and malfeasance. The only difference is the names of the officers. In a few exceptions like the Pattaya kidnapping the same bad apple is the culprit.
This week, a commanding-level officer was transferred from his post in Phatthalung pending a probe over the alleged misuse of a helicopter that flew him to a temple in Nakhon Si Thammarat where he ignited three million fire crackers before a Buddha image in what is known as a kae bon, a return of favour, offer. It is one of the few agencies where position-buying is the norm.
These shenanigans are just the tip of the iceberg in police circles. The Royal Thai Police conceded such problems exist, but efforts to reform the agency are easier said than done.
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, as head of the now-defunct National Council on Peace and Order, vowed to reform the RTP in 2014, saying it was a top priority for the military regime. Police reform is stipulated by the 2017 constitution, with a clause saying a law enacting the reform would materialise within a year, to turn the more than century-old agency into an efficient and transparent organisation.
The prime minister set up several panels to study the reform process. But by the end of the military era last year, he found the process was too tough and shelved the plan, saying he would wait for the next government to take over. The fact his enormous powers were useless was a shock. Now the new government is under his control, and it’s almost a year since he took office. But the prime minister has never mentioned a word about reform, while scandal after scandal rock the agency.
In the justice process, the RTP is the first agency that people turn to for assistance and protection. Yet many have ended up being further exploited by this state agency. Gen Prayut must know that allowing such incidents involving police misconduct to carry on will only end up eroding remaining trust in his government.