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Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Report 218 / Asia

Indonesia: The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing

Despite years of investment in community policing, the Indonesian police remain deeply distrusted by the people they are supposed to serve.

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Executive Summary

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.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 February 2012

Op-Ed / Asia

Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia urgently needs a competent civilian body that can police the police and show that there are tangible consequences to refusal to enforce the law or in some cases, actively violate it.

Those with the authority to hold the police accountable, including the president, seem to lack the political will to do so; civil society groups appalled by police behavior have so far been unsuccessful in pressing for change. If Indonesian democracy is going to move forward, it is up to these groups to make a concerted effort to press the president and House of Representatives to bring a civilian oversight body into being.

The standoff with former chief detective Susno Duadji is a case in point. On April 24, West Java Police, together with a political party militia linked to a former justice minister, prevented prosecutors from taking Susno from his luxury house to prison after he lost all appeals against a bribery conviction. Susno was once head of the West Java command, one of the largest regional police units in Indonesia, and many officers there still owe their careers to him. It was clearly more important for top officers to protect the culture of patronage than to enforce the law.

This is not the first time the police have braved public scorn to protect one of their own. Last year, police blocked the anti-corruption commission from investigating the alleged corruption of Djoko Susilo, an active general who once led the lucrative traffic division. He is currently on trial after public uproar, presidential intervention and the discovery of a number of mansions under the names of his multiple wives.

Polls show high distrust of the police. Kompas newspaper last year found that 72.9 percent of respondents thought police would not touch the rich or powerful. In 2011, a survey by human rights group Imparsial revealed that 74.8 percent of those polled associated the police with corruption.

Why are the Indonesian police so tone-deaf to public opinion instead of working to build public trust?

Crisis Group analyzed this problem last year in a report titled The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing. One answer is that police see the post-1999 reforms in terms of structure, not institutional culture. The public may see reform in terms of increased competency, honesty and humanity. Those inside the institution are more focused on sustaining the new privileges, opportunities and powers that reform has brought about.

The 1999 divorce from the armed forces gave police authority over internal security after decades of playing junior partner to the army. But no thought was given to how this newly empowered force would be supervised. The 2002 police law gave it a direct reporting line to the president rather than placing it under a ministry and created a National Police Commission that ended up largely toothless because it can only provide advice to the president, rather than having powers to investigate, subpoena or censure. Since then,  attempts, including a 2007 draft of  the national security bill, to put police under the Home Affairs or Justice Ministry have hit the wall of entrenched police opposition that parliamentarians seem loathe to challenge.

Immune from external supervision that could hold wrongdoers accountable, the police can continue to distribute the increasing spoils of the reform without disruption. A reasonable livelihood is guaranteed as long as members are loyal to the internal norms. In the absence of credible performance-based reviews and an incentive structure that rewards professionalism and punishes incompetence, officers find that their promotions, educational opportunities and access to additional funds depend on relationships inside the force, especially with direct superiors. Deference trumps competence and initiative every time.

This does not mean that civil society should stop complaining about police shortcomings. Public pressure can make a difference. In October 2012, the police in Lampung failed to stop a deadly eruption of inter-ethnic violence when they should have anticipated trouble. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was slow to respond but in the face of public anger, the Lampung Police chief was forced to apologize and saw his scheduled promotion canceled.  Last month, when the Yogyakarta Police failed to protect murder suspects from being executed by soldiers in their cell, Yudhoyono again faced pressure to act, and the Yogyakarta Police chief was replaced. In both cases, the police denied that public uproar had sparked the decisions but events hinted otherwise.

Accountability must be institutionalized, however. It is insufficient to hope that media coverage and public advocacy will force a president to act or a police force effectively to control its own behavior. Indonesia must revisit the idea of a civilian oversight commission with real clout. This will require a new law, and public pressure could help bring it about. It may be the only way to ensure that reform means professionalism rather than patronage.