Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 13 / Asia

Indonesia: National Police Reform

In the euphoria at the demise of the New Order, there was an expectation that the 1945 Constitution’s declaration that Indonesia was a state based on the rule of law might be resurrected after 40 years of neglect.

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Executive Summary

In the euphoria at the demise of the New Order, there was an expectation that the 1945 Constitution’s declaration that Indonesia was a state based on the rule of law might be resurrected after 40 years of neglect. The euphoria soon dissipated, however, when the scale of the challenge and the weakness of the first democratically elected government since 1957 became evident.

Reform of particular institutions, like the Indonesian National Police (INP), cannot be implemented in isolation from the other institutions of state. An effective police force will soon be rendered impotent if prosecutors, judges, and prison governors fail in their responsibilities. Likewise, reform in any of these institutions is unlikely if government revenues are not adequate to pay salaries that meet basic needs and cover the basic resources and operational costs of the institutions of government.

As a result of these shortcomings, corruption has become endemic across the whole field of public employment from top to bottom. Despite democratic elections, the underlying political structures are still based on deeply rooted patronage networks. Reforms that threaten these structures will be strongly resisted unless means are found to raise taxes to cover reasonable costs of government and legitimise the existing structures of power.

Reform is not so much a matter of inadequate law, feeble institutions, ethical codes or expertise as of mustering political will. The Abdurrahman Wahid government is in survival mode, and there are doubts about the capacity of a successor government to address fundamental issues. Even in the absence of political will, however, it should still be possible and productive to pursue reform in areas of police administration and operations that do not threaten the structures of power. As political conditions change, reform might spread to more significant areas, eventually containing corruption to manageable levels. But there should be no illusions that this is a short-term process.

Senior police leadership is seen by some observers to be heavily politicised and inclined to block officers who want to push reform more energetically. That might be so but it also faces an enormous task of maintaining a semblance of law and order across a huge country while trying to exercise expanded responsibilities for internal security with grossly inadequate resources. It may consider that trying to impose radical change in such circumstances would overwhelm the capacity of the organisation to cope.

Regardless of senior leadership’s motives, the absence of pressure from within reinforces the need for political leadership to provide the policy, resources and oversight to drive the reform process forward. The discussion of individual motives also suggests that ‘the power of one’ should not be forgotten. Authoritarianism seeks to suppress individuality but individuals with vision, organisational skills and drive will emerge and should be identified and encouraged. These persons, even acting separately, can give organic direction and impetus that might eventually force democratic change in and on the institutions of state, including the police and create a culture that minimises corruption.

Jakarta/Brussels, 20 February 2001

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.

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