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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why aren't the police following police orders?



I want the best Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) there can be. I believe the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the PDRM as a whole share this goal.
I also believe that there has actually already been a lot done to get them there. A lot of the theory is correct - good policies are in place, and very logical standard operating procedures have been instituted, all based on sound principles.
It may surprise some to know that these principles and procedures theoretically provide a range of effective protections for citizens - or at least they would, if they were followed to the letter.
Not unusually, the problem is in the execution and implementation.
Let’s start by taking it on faith that PDRM’s leadership do sincerely want the police to follow the procedures that they have set.
In that context, the following three-part article series, the first of which is published today, will do a thorough and chronological examination of what happened to S Balamurugan, who died from “multiple blunt force trauma” injuries in police custody on Feb 8, with a specific focus on whether the policemen involved adhered to standard operating procedures created by the police themselves, as well as the government institutions which oversee the police.
If the answer is in the negative, then the police higher-ups need to discipline the rank and file involved, and re-instill proper respect for the chain of command.
Thus, instead of engaging in criticism that is based on what outsiders such as ourselves (activists, advocates and so on) feel the police should be doing, these articles attempt to approach the problem from the perspective of internal police discipline.
In doing so, it also hopes to be useful to those who find themselves or their loved ones in police custody. It is always best to be armed with the proper knowledge of what is legal and illegal with regards to police detention.
The Carlsberg keling
Before diving in however, as a follow-up to my last article regarding the institutional culture of the police that leads to deaths in custody, let us briefly examine details that surfaced in the latter half of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission’s (EAIC) inquiry into Balamurugan’s death in early June.  
Messages were revealed from the Whatsapp group consisting of policemen in the Bandar Baru Klang police station, where Balamurugan was first brought to.
Two quotes stood out:
"Keling ini macam mana, boss? Dia macam nak mampus." (What about this keling, boss? He looks like he may die.)
"Kasi dia (give him) Carlsberg, confirm okay."
As my eloquent and astute colleague Commander (Rtd) S Thayarapan has incisively pointed out, at this rate, the day will come when we are all “kelings”.
Thayarapan also alludes to an enduring problem: what of the good cops? Everyone knows they surely must exist. How can we keep incidences like this from undoing the good that these few good men do?
Chronological summary
Let us begin the examination of Balamurugan’s case with a chronological summary.
As best can be ascertained from the EAIC report and testimonies at the inquiry, Balamurugan’s timeline is approximately as such:
Feb 6, 2017
6.30pm - Balamurugan is arrested along with Taminarasan and Ang Kian Kok by officers from the motorcycle patrol unit from the North Klang police headquarters. They are brought to the Bandar Baru Klang police station. This is where an alleged ten minutes of brutal beatings took place. As elaborated in my previous article, Balamurugan’s wife and officers at the police station testified that they heard screams and pleas for help.
10.45pm - Balamurugan and Taminarasan are transferred to the North Klang police headquarters. Ang was sent to Banting.
Feb 7, 2017
3.15am - Balamurugan and the rest are sent to the Shah Alam Centralised Lockup.
8.30am - Balamurugan and the rest are taken to the Klang Court, where the magistrate orders that Balamurugan be taken to the hospital.
1pm - Instead of being taken to the hospital, Balamurugan is brought back to the North Klang police headquarters. He is left to himself to “rest”.
7pm - The police force Taminarasan, Ang, and another detainee Kanapathy to help Balamurugan into the lockup.
11.30pm - The investigating officer finds Balamurugan unconscious.
Feb 8, 2017
12.15am - An assistant medical officer confirms that Balamurugan has died.
One observation worth pointing out briefly is that Balamurugan was in fact a police informant to one Corporal Luqmanul Hakim Mokhtar (who himself confirmed this fact), from the Bandar Baru Klang police station.
Coincidentally, this is the policeman who made the “give him a Carlsberg” joke.
Cpl Luqmanul said that Balamurugan had seen him at the Bandar Baru Klang police station and pleaded for help, but in response, Luqmanul only gestured to him that he should wait.
Cpl Luqmanul made no attempt to reveal Balamurugan’s status as an informant to his colleagues, nor help him in any substantial way. If this is the way we treat informants, it seems unlikely that other citizens will step forward in future to help law and justice.
Lockups and remand orders
Just for thoroughness, I will provide the context necessary for those who have little or no background knowledge of lockups and remand orders (apologies to those who already know all these things): 
Most police stations above a certain size have a holding area for individuals who are arrested. I believe the technical term is ‘lockup’.
A lockup is very distinct from a prison. A prison is run by the prison department (which is completely separate from the police), and houses detainees who have been convicted of crimes by a court of law, and sentenced to serve a prison sentence.
A lockup is a temporary holding space for individuals who have been arrested on suspicion of a crime, or to “assist with investigations”.
An individual can only be held by the police in such a lockup for a maximum of 24 hours before being produced before a magistrate, should the police wish to remand (or in other words, to detain) that individual for a longer period of time.
The police can first apply for a magistrate’s order to remand an individual for a maximum of four days or one week (depending on the nature of the case being investigated). Subsequently, the individual must once again be produced before a magistrate to renew the remand order, for a further three days or one week.
Legal and illegal interrogations
The issue at hand concerns where and when interrogations of a suspect are allowed.
Malaysiakini report states:
“(W)hen queried about the moment when Balamurugan was brought into his police station on the night of Feb 6, (officer in charge of Bandar Baru Klang police station ASP Harun Abu Bakar said) he was aware that the officers involved were from outside his jurisdiction, namely from the North Klang police district headquarters.
However, he said he was not aware that they were from the serious crimes division until after Balamurugan was found dead in the wee hours of Feb 8.
‘If I had known, I would not allow the interrogation to take place,’ he said.
He said interrogations are prohibited at his police station because it is not equipped nor gazetted for this purpose. However, it is not an offence to ask questions at the station for the purpose of documentation.”
What this means is, according to police procedure, strictly speaking, there are only certain gazetted (or legally designated) locations in which the police are technically allowed to interrogate prisoners.
When the police arrest an individual, they can hold him or her at their respective police stations. ASP Harun’s testimony indicates that the police at that station are - as can be reasonably expected - allowed to “ask questions for the purpose of documentation”.
One assumes that this means that the police are able to ask a detainee for his or her basic personal information: full name, IC number, occupation, and so on.
When and where interrogations are allowed
Interrogation of a detainee, however, is another matter entirely.
Interrogation in this context likely means subjecting a detainee to questioning regarding the case for which he was arrested.
In this context, the police have wisely made it such that interrogations of this kind can only take place in certain gazetted locations.
In Balamurugan’s case, the proper and lawful location for his interrogation was likely to have been the Shah Alam Centralised Lockup. 
I believe this is in the Shah Alam district police headquarters, near the state secretariat building.  
My guess is that the idea behind this rule is to ensure that all interrogations take place in a more central location that is ‘higher up’ in the hierarchy and which lends itself to more direct oversight and supervision, as opposed to the many small police stations out there in the periphery.
I think this reasoning is sound and logical, especially given the history of cases we have witnessed.
If I am not mistaken, interrogations are also only allowed during office hours. After office hours, detainees must be returned to the proper lockup.
Over a decade ago, I experienced this firsthand when I was detained as a suspect. The police would pick me up from the Dang Wangi lockup in the morning, take me to the large police building which housed the Commercial Crimes Division (near Bank Negara) where I would spend a little time being interrogated and answering questions, and a lot of time watching TV together with the police.
When evening came, the same good police would take me back to the lockup in Dang Wangi.

I believe this policy helps a little with transparency, and curbs the kind of abuse that may be more liable to happen in the dead of night far away in a quiet police station with little or no witnesses - such as Balamurugan experienced.

NATHANIEL TAN used to live right next to Bandar Baru Klang for a while. His mother-in-law used to really enjoy one of the restaurants there. Deepest condolences to the families of the RMAF pilots, and the recent young murder victims.- Mkini

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