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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who do you call?


http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/images/sized/images/uploads/columnists/ernamahyuni_170x62-170x0.jpg
Erna Mahyuni, The Malaysian Insider 


“Kami polis. Kami boleh tanya, tahan dan tangkap siapa saja.” (We’re policemen. We can interrogate, detain and arrest whomever.)
All M (she asked I not mention her name) wanted to know was why the two policemen on motorcycles were asking for her ID.
It was a rainy night, M was driving. She saw a motorcyclist in her way and honked. He might not have seen her; she just wanted to make sure. She was being careful, she thought.
The next thing M knew, two men on motorcycles were flanking her car.
One of them berated her for honking at him. She explained why she did so and also pointed out that she had right of way.
Again, he spouted the “I’m a cop and can arrest anyone” spiel.
She asked if she could call her friend, a senior police officer, for advice.
“Panggilah, saya takut apa?” (Call, then, what have I got to be afraid of?)
M called her friend. Her friend wanted the policemen’s names and numbers. And, suddenly, the “fearless” policemen were too afraid to identify themselves.
They lied to M’s friend on the phone, saying they only “wanted to help” her.
In the end, the policemen went away leaving a very shaken M.
M was lucky. Few of us can call up a senior ranked cop for help when being harassed by rogue members of the force.
Thing is, we shouldn’t even have to deal with it in the first place.
There are decent cops. I’ve met them. But at the same time, we’ve all heard the stories or encountered “bad cops.”
Cops who ask for bribes. Cops who steal. Cops who turn a blind eye to crime or pretend to be too busy with paperwork to attend to crime reports.
We are afraid of our policemen, for all the wrong reasons.
To be honest, they scare me too. I’ve gone to make a police report and was ignored by the cop on duty because he thought I was a Filipina. It took me brandishing my IC at him for him to take me seriously. Then there were the cops who wanted to solicit bribes from me or make me get in a police car, all because they mistook me for a foreign worker.
The cops need to be held accountable for the rogues in their ranks. They need to make it mandatory to show their identification numbers at all times.
If a cop refuses to give his name and ID numbers, it shouldn’t be a crime for a Malaysian to ignore him.
The reality is that there are cops who are bullies. But when a policeman asks you to pull over, don’t automatically assume he intends to harass you. Maybe your signal lights died. Your bumper or identification plate fell off. Give the policeman the benefit of the doubt.
But when it’s clear the “policeman” you’re dealing is problematic, here’s what you can do:
1. If you’re in a car, don’t get out. Roll down the window slightly (not enough for the rogue cop to reach in and grab you) and ask for identification. Even if they furnish it and ask you to follow them, insist on driving to a nearby station. If you’re a woman, there are real risks to you stepping into a policeman’s car if his intentions are unclear.
2. Keep your mobile phone and call people. Tell family, friends where you are and who you’re with. Take pictures. Use social media: Tweet and post pictures to Facebook, if you can.
3. If you’re on foot and don’t have the safety of a vehicle to retreat to, remain calm. Make calls but don’t run. If you’re unlucky, you might be dealing with a poorly trained, trigger-happy policeman who will use “resisting arrest” as an excuse to shoot you. It’s your word against theirs and your running from policemen will be used against you.
4. Resist the urge to be flippant, rude or confrontational. Policemen are public servants but they are not your coolies. Talking down to them doesn’t do you any favours and will just make the situation worse.
Even in developed countries like the US and UK, they do have problems with rogue policemen who do not respect procedure. Don’t assume all policemen are that way but at the same time, be prepared to deal with those who are.
At the very least, every Malaysian should have some number they can call to get help if they’re being bullied by cops acting questionably.
Question is: Will the phone ever stop ringing?

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