Indonesia: The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing
Asia Report N°218
16 Feb 2012
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Indonesian communities are increasingly turning to violence to retaliate against the police for abuses, real or perceived. Some 40 attacks on police stations and personnel since August 2010 are clear evidence that community policing, the centrepoint of the police reform agenda, is not working; police are too quick to shoot, usually with live ammunition; and little progress has been made toward police accountability. In the absence of urgent reforms and mechanisms to address local grievances, public hostility is likely to grow. Police are supposed to be helping prevent conflict but too often they are contributing to its outbreak.
Cultural, structural, individual, financial and educational barriers within the institution hinder behavioural change. Applicants join the police to wield power and earn money, and once on the force, there are few incentives, financial or professional, to build rapport with the communities they are supposed to serve. Policy directives on community policing from 2005 and 2008 have not trickled down to the sub-district precincts (kepolisian sektor, polsek), and those field officers who are committed to building good relations have limited impact because of frequent rotations.
Community hostility is the cumulative result of police brutality; unwarranted demands for money; perceived arrogance; and lack of accountability, especially in cases of fatal shootings. Failure to investigate or punish errant officers triggers mob action, often involving arson, while community resistance to the arrest of those responsible for such violence intensifies if the police in question go free.
The problem is compounded by the staffing of precincts with poorly-trained graduates of provincial police schools who receive inadequate firearms training, let alone instruction in community policing. In many cases, local elected officials have to take on the burden of negotiating a way out of the police-community standoff because there are no available institutional mechanisms to resolve grievances.
This report looks in detail at three cases of community attacks on police stations that occurred in 2010 and 2011. All started from complaints about excessive use of force.
In Buol, Central Sulawesi, citizens destroyed police facilities and forced police families to leave town after seven men were shot dead during a mass protest against the death of a teenager in police custody. This is one of the few cases in which officers were brought to court, but only because of the high death toll and media attention. One was acquitted, two were given slap-on-the-wrist sentences, and some two dozen others faced minor disciplinary sanctions. Many questions remain unanswered.
In Kampar, Riau, residents vandalised a precinct after the arrest and beating of an innocent clan elder at a market. He was accused of illegal gambling because he was jotting numbers on a piece of paper, when in fact he was noting product prices. Trivial arrests like this frequently occur because police are rewarded for favourable crime statistics: the more arrests they make, regardless of the severity of the crime, the better they are seen to be doing their job.
In Bantaeng, South Sulawesi, villagers attacked a precinct after a deadly police raid on alleged gamblers at a wedding party that killed one. The raiders did not come from that precinct, but it was the nearest one to the dead man’s home. Police claim they opened fire because they believed anger among the wedding guests over the gambling arrests put their commander’s life in danger. In fact they seem to have shot wildly in the dark without being able to see what they were shooting at.
These incidents are emblematic of a much broader problem; the Indonesian government should stop treating them as isolated incidents. They represent a systemic failure which will continue to undermine the credibility of the police pledge to “serve and protect” the people and encourage further deadly violence unless the underlying causes of community hostility are addressed.
To the Indonesian authorities:
To address the underlying causes of community hostility to the police
1. Apply far stricter oversight and auditing to the police budget;
2. Impose higher standards and stricter requirements for officers’ acquisition and use of firearms;
3. Institute better training in non-lethal methods of crowd control;
4. Set up tangible incentives and a merit system that encourage better relations with the public and stronger teaching of community policing;
5. Review autopsy procedures for cases involving police to ensure independence and transparency;
6. Devote serious attention to improving the curriculum and training methods in the national police academy and even more importantly in provincial police schools, including eliminating all use of corporal punishment;
7. Establish a civilian oversight commission that can receive and aggressively act on public complaints; and
8. Make more use of the criminal courts rather than disciplinary proceedings in cases where serious police abuse is alleged.
Jakarta/Brussels, 16 February 2012