Two-Faced Police

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaPolice personnel occupy many positions that are not relevant to law and order. The force has a reputation for violence.

    THE unfinished reform process since 1998 has resulted in a two-faced police force. The first face is the police as a civilian institution following its separation from the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI). Unfortunately, the militaristic face is still apparent on many members of the organization, including in the need to obtain confessions from those accused of crimes.

    It is these two faces that characterize the National Police (Polri) on its 74th anniversary, celebrated on July 1. Officially, since it was split off from ABRI in 2000, Polri is a civilian institution responsible for ensuring law and order. Meanwhile the renamed Indonesian Military (TNI) is tasked with defending the security of the state. These two responsibilities used to be united under ABRI, which was responsible for defense and law and order.

    Of course, the police is not an ordinary civil institution. Its members are uniformed, armed and equipped with technology that can be used to monitor every citizen. All this has a major influence on its members. It is no surprise that Polri has gradually turned into an influential political force, especially since President Joko Widodo opened the door to police personnel occupying positions outside their usual area of responsibility.

    For example, in 2018 Jokowi appointed a senior police officer as interim governor of West Java. Afterwards, other central positions from chief of the State Intelligence Agency, chair of the State Logistics Agency to high ranking officials in various ministries, commissioners of state companies and chairman of the national football federation were awarded to police personnel. The high point was the selection of Insp. Gen. Firli Bahuri as chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), a body established in 2002 because the police and Attorney General's Office were seen as having failed to prevent this crime. It seems like the police made the most of the opportunities given to them by Jokowi's administration.

    At the same time, the organization has been unable to rid itself of its tradition of violence. Among these acts of brutality were the deaths of a number of students demonstrating against the revised KPK Law in various regions last year. On the individual level, there are frequent abuses of power. For example, there was the violence against businessman Donny Widjaja, who was accused of embezzling project funds by his business partners. Donny said that he was threatened and beaten by his partners and two police officers. One of them turned out to be an officer investigating the charges against Donny.

    On a wider scale, the level of violence carried out by police officers is still high. According to the Commission for Missing People and Victims of Violence (Kontras), there were 48 incidences of torture carried out by the police between June 2019 and May 2020. Most of these violent acts were carried out to obtain confessions during interrogations. Kontras also stated that police personnel are believed to have been involved in 921 acts of violence and violations of human rights between July 2019 and July 2020 which resulted in 1,627 people being injured and 304 killed. Other acts of violence took the form of the suppression of civil rights, forced dispersions and clashes, the use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests and intimidation over the Internet.

    Police reforms should be continued. Polri also need to improve its professional standards. Police personal who have been appointed to civil positions, for example, should resign to avoid conflicts of interest. The police must also eradicate the militaristic stance of its members. Without this endeavor, Polri will return to the bad ways of the past when it had a dual role under the New Order regime. History will record that it was the Jokowi administration that made this possible.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine