Thai Police & Lenient Law Enforcement

(The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper last Saturday. Here below however, is the originally un-edited submission)

(Phuket’s ever-friendly police officers, always at your beck and call…..well, in theory anyway)

For the umpteenth time in the space of just a few years, it has been declared that there is to be a complete revamp of the Thai police system. Well, maybe it really is needed, as every week in the media and on the Internet we are bombarded with opinions condemning the cops as completely inept at enforcing any kind of proper law and order.

What most folk fail to realize though, is that should the boys-in-brown seriously enforce each and every law, it could be end of Thailand as we know it. Let’s us start with a few examples and your morning coffee at Starbucks. Happily sipping away on your Cappucchino while reading The Nation, you are next on the stroke of eight, completely startled at the sight of a bunch of pot-bellied bobbies hammering on the window ordering you to stand-up and salute the national anthem. The day, while doing a spot of sunbathing in Pattaya, you are soon arrested and fined by another platoon of police for not wearing a shirt in public. Dismayed at such medieval laws, you next decide to vent your frustrations at some hot hostess at a nearby bar – that is however, until you can’t get served because it isn’t quite 5pm. Then, before you can say ‘twiddle-me-tootsies’ you are next ordered by a detective to refrain from indulging in any pre-marital copulation with the busty barmaid as it unfortunately, against the law. Just imagine it, if the cops seriously enforced the law it would kill off half the tourist industry.

While the public are often up-in-arms griping at the police for taking back-handers, they more often than not, forget that they are just as much to blame as the law-enforcers themselves. Now, just how many of us have used the speedy-service method of payment after being pulled-over for not stopping at a red-light? Of course, it is the public in general who pays this so-called corruption money, it just doesn’t fall from trees.

(A Thai police officer enjoying the festivities of Thai New Year)

It has to be understood that much of the social decadence and lack of law enforcement is actually also due to Thai ways and customs. Even if Mr and Mrs Jaidee spend half their nights brawling and smacking their kids, the neighbours just turn a blind-eye and recall that such behaviour is a ‘personal family matter’ and not the business of the local constabulary. Research the age of consent in Thailand and you will be utterly dumbfounded at how unclear the actual law is. Even though, it is in fact illegal in Thailand, just how many parents sell their 14 year old daughters into marriage after she gets pregnant? Yes, much of the time, the public can’t even be bothered reporting any debauchery as it is again a ‘private affair’.

Let me retell a fine first-hand example from my own town a couple of months ago where the locals again, didn’t even bat an eyelid. It is the true story of a nice young girl and I mean young, just 13 – who give birth to lovely cuddly twins. As for the intrepid father, a songthaew driver, well… he already has a common-in-law wife and two grown-up kids. Not needing to get out a calculator like, it doesn’t seem highly unlikely, that perhaps the father had been messing around with a 12 year-old, thus committing mandatory rape. “Nevermind, the girl’s parents have consented” was what I heard when I asked to whether any criminal charges were to be filed.

Now, I am sure that more than just a handful of foreign readers here have been totally bewildered at times to the sight of illegal behaviour in their village which goes completely ignored. Again, the lack of police intervention is often due to what the cops believe is a ‘private thing’. I remember the time not so long ago when I complained to a cop about a glue-sniffing mother who was in the habit of riding her bicycle while intoxicated with her one year-old toddler stuffed in the front basket, did he take any action – you have to be joking!

(Cheesed-off with tourist police who can’t speak a word of English? Voluntary Farang’s come to the rescue… Chiang Mai)

A few weeks back, after reading for the hundredth time the news of another proposed clampdown of mahouts walking the streets with their elephants, I decided to confront a lawman acquaintance of mine about our town’s non-existent law enforcement in due regard. He said “Steve, you must be off your head if you think I am gonna arrest an elephant – first, my boss would think I had gone insane and second, what the heck would we do with the elephant, throw it in the slammer and feed it red rice?” The very same goes for the likes of child beggars, it isn’t always the low-ranking gendarme’s fault that he doesn’t bust the ragged urchins, it mostly lies in the fault of those starred commissioned ones pompously sat in their office who order their sub-ordinates to crackdown on ‘serious matters’ and not trivial ones which concern mother and child.

Obviously not one to side with the police all the time, I will admit that there are innumerable areas where your normal police guy is pretty incapable of doing even the most straightforward of jobs. Besides just the Thais, a lot of the foreigners too, especially at tourist areas, have been altogether bewildered at times to why their local station sometimes does absolutely nothing when a crime like burglary or even robbery has been reported. “You must to understand, we are very busy and understaffed” is often the reply, before the officer sits back, pours another coffee and picks up the newspaper. Another classic excuse for such downright inactiveness is because of low salary. Sorry, but personally I just can’t accept that kind of flimsy alibi these day; besides just a basic salary the police get the likes of relocation pay, rank pay, free accommodation and of course commission.

Of course, the cops need to set some decent moral examples too and stop breaking laws and regulations themselves. Let’s have a look at the daily routine of Sgt Supharp a splendid crime-buster whose job it is to zoom around town at night cleaning the streets of teenage scumbags. For a few hours before work, our sergeant friend loves nothing more than attending a karaoke bar with the intention of swigging a few bottles of amber nectar and singing his favourite country songs. On the spot of midnight, Sarge can be witnessed jumping on his motorbike half-plastered before almost driving it into a telephone box. After finally arriving at the station to sign his name he suddenly decides, because it is slightly raining – and he doesn’t need to catch a cold, to simply return to the cozy warmth of the karaoke. Not a bad job indeed.

Undeniably, Thailand’s police force needs a total revamp and like every other tainted organization, it has to start at the very top. The public too however, instead of just continually deploring the police, needs to realize that there are some shady areas of society which also need a thorough reform. And finally, since the country is home to a myriad of nonsensical laws, we can be quite glad that very often the constabulary just turns its heads. Total law-enforcement and the country would be in shambles.

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