Saturday, April 15, 2006

Was Police Action Rambo-ish? (2)

In my posting Was Police Action Rambo-ish? I questioned the disproportionate force the police employed at a road block when a car crashed through. The police sprayed the speeding vehicle with bullets from a submachine gun. A 14 year old female passenger was shot in her back and had to be hospitalised.

Reader Ducky and I posed the additional question of ‘what if’. What if the occupants of the car had been one of the following:

(1) a drunk not in command of his faculties. Reader balajoe argued that a drunk shouldn’t be driving in the first place, but then we don’t live in an ideal world where drunks would exercise common safety sense in their state of inebriety.

(2) a kidnapping or other similar situations where the driver decided to barge thro’ without knowledge of, or agreement by his/her passengers.

(3) a driver chancing upon the road block without warning – as reader Ducky had stated, Malaysian police seem to like positioning their road blocks just around blind corners or somewhere in the dark where drivers would just come into sight of them at the last minute, and sometimes at high speed. OK, I anticipate the argument that the driver shouldn’t be driving at excessive speed but again the reality is as everyone knows, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Let’s ignore all those and assume that police do know that the occupant is a thief of outboard motors (assume he didn't have a 14 year old girlfriend beside him) who rammed through the police block. Certainly such a situation represents a matter of operational concern to the police. It has to be, when a car barges through a police check point, regardless of whether the driver is a thief or one of the 3 possible situations above where passengers may not be criminals or at worst, the driver is drunk or lack anticipation.

But do operational concerns warrant such drastic action?

Reader balajoe averred such a car would lose any ‘reasonable doubt’. Firstly I want to thank all contributors to the discussions as I don't dare claim mine to be perfect or infallible, though I do assert my views represent my values. Anyway, back to balajoe's comments - I respectfully disagree with him.

For the police to assume that it's beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ that the car is driven by a criminal or criminals involves more than the act of barging through a checkpoint. For example, it could well be one of the 3 possible scenarios I have suggested (there could be more). Then, there ought to be some indications that indeed that the car carries criminals as in sighting them brandishing some weapons or recognising who they are. Thirdly, the operational scenario must be one that requires the police to take such drastic situation. I don’t believe that theft of outboard motors warrants that kind of police gunfire.

In other words, we need to know what rules of engagement the police operates under? The Royal Malaysian Police has been so notorious in recent times (God knows what they had done that were not known or publicised) that it’s essential we want to know their rules of engagement in such situations. We mustn't allow them to act according to their whims and fancies as they have been prone to do.

Clearly stated and easily understood rules of engagement would guide the police on when, where and how force shall be used. The rules provide a standard of operations that would be consistent and well thought out in advance of various situations, for example, at a road block or patrol that the police would be likely to encounter. The rules would and could of course vary from situation to situation.

The 1st rule is of course self-defence for the police. If they are threatened then they may reciprocate, and even then, ensuring that the general public is not harmed. In other words, in a situation where a robber charges out of the bank firing at police from a crowd, unless the policeman is immediately and directly threatened (say, robber just 5 metres away pointing gun at his chest) the police should avoid returning fire until and unless the field of fire ensures in all probability that the police won’t mow down members of the public.

Was there any threat to the police at the road block in Trengganu?

After the issue of self-defence, the police rules of engagement must take into account the values of the our society. For example, in the West, high speed police chase are nowadays frown upon by the public because these had caused more harm than good. In a hi-speed chase, members of the public could be killed as had happened many times already. Secondly, even the lives of the criminal, maybe just a young schoolboy who has stolen a car for a joy ride, should be protected from unnecessary harm. Running him down until he could possibly crash and kill himself (including any joy ride passengers) is hardly what the public expects of their police or for the criminals.

We in Malaysia must start to consider such values where we shouldn’t casually condemn a car thief or one of outboard motors to his untimely death by saying “Oh he’s a bloody criminal, tough shit if he gets shot” and “Oh he’s a drunk, he shouldn’t be driving in the 1st place, he deserves to be shot for barging thro’.

What about a bloke who wields menacingly a samurai sword at the police who encircle him? Well, in Australia there was such a case. The public was highly critical of the police all-too-readiness to shoot him, which they did and killed him. Subsequently they found that he was a mental patient. And so what if he even wasn’t one. Could there have been another way? Yes, police today have a range of options that can disarm or neutralise such people – stun guns, mace, etc.

The general aim is not to kill, unless the police has no other choice but to protect him/herself or a member of the public from the immediacy of injury or death. Note I qualify the police self defence action as one only in a situation of ‘immediate’ danger. The Aussie bloke who had psychiatric problems didn't pose any immediate danger to anyone even when he was waving his sword.

Basically rules of engagement provides police with a plan to use force effectively to accomplish their duties but with the need to avoid unnecessary force or what I term as disproportionate force.

I posed Was Police Action Rambo-ish? [note title with a question mark to suggest it’s a query] to elicit responses so that I may gauge our current values towards such police actions.

What our values are in relation to other countries don’t matter so long as we are satisfied these values are what we want. If we are happy for our police to fire away like Rambo and hurt a 14-year old kid who probably didn’t have much say in what her boyfriend had done, well, that’s that then.

On the other hand, if we Malaysians feel that a thief of outboard motors doesn’t deserve to be drilled full of holes for daring to escape police apprehension, because it’s not a case of terrorism or hostile violence against society, or a situation where our policemen were threatened with immediate danger, then we need to make our feelings known to the Minister of Internal Affairs.

Remember, one day it could well be our brothers, sisters, kids, dad, mum, sweetheart, friends in that car. We deserve what we say or don’t say to the police on such police actions!

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