Is the IPCMC a discriminatory provision against the police?

Is the IPCMC a discriminatory provision against the police?

The IPCMC, the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission, is intended to be a non-police, (“civilian”) institution focused on effectively handling complaints of misconduct of police officers.

Today, at a meeting, I heard a retired senior police officer say that in 2005, the police, especially the lower ranks, expressed huge resentment when the Dzaiddin Police Commission proposed the IPCMC. They felt the IPCMC discriminated against the police. They continue to believe so.

The chairman of the meeting also said something which revealed the extent to which the police were unhappy with the proposed IPCMC.

He said many people think the EAIC Act 2009, which created the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission, was authored by the police. The EAIC was not only a pale shadow of the proposed IPCMC. It was also made responsible for overseeing 21 agencies.

Clearly the police felt if they were to be overseen by “outsiders,” then so should those who work in other agencies. In police eyes, expanding the scope of the EAIC meant “avoiding discrimination against the police.”

To some extent I agree with the police, because members of other agencies are also equipped and trained to use force to arrest and detain people and property. The latest case of abuse of such force is the death in immigration custody of the Nigerian student, Thomas Orhions Ewansiha.

In some other countries, members of services other than the general police are also subject to external oversight. For example, the Office of the Ombudsman for Northern Ireland also deals with complaints about the airport police, harbour police and home office police as well as three other services, in addition to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

I have no issue with the scope of the IPCMC being extended to cover “other police.” However, I would expect the IPCMC to focus on the general police, because they receive the most number of complaints.

For example, in 2017, 440 of the 546 complaints received by the EAIC were about the police – that’s 81 per cent, or four out of five complaints.

The complaint data shows that public dissatisfaction with the police is very high. This is also why the Pakatan Harapan coalition included establishing an IPCMC as one of its election promises.

The police are also numerous – 142,192 personnel in the 2019 budget, with an allocation of RM8.86 billion for operating expenditure alone.

Another reason the police top the list of agencies civilians want to oversee is the extent to which the police have abused their powers over civilians – apparently without any rebukes or restraints from their own disciplinary authority, the Office of Integrity and Compliance to Standards (JIPS).

Take for example the hundreds of cases of activists and politicians whom the police ask to come to police stations for interviews, sometimes with several days’ notice. Then, when the targets come at the appointed times, the police detain them overnight – and apply to magistrates the next day to remand them for a few more days “for questioning!”

Policing is not easy work. Police have to deal frequently with rude, dangerous and even crazy people. Police have to deal with pressure to take politically-directed actions. Police can easily lose their cool and use excessive force – and they have enormous power and many opportunities to do so.

Therefore, they must be subject to special oversight – to make them ever-conscious that they can and will be hauled up if they cross the line, that their buddies and officers can’t cover up for their (sometimes excusable) failures.

The police have immense power. They are very numerous. They are often tempted to abuse their power. They have often abused their power. Therefore, they must be subject to special oversight.

That is the practice in developed democracies. It is well established that the police cannot police the police. It must be so in Malaysia too.

Rama Ramanathan is a member of CAGED.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.

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