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DIY Policing

The tourist had left his mobile phone in a Bangkok taxi.  This kind of thing happens on a daily basis so you would think that when he reported it to a police station, they would have a procedure in place to deal with it.

And they do.  But it’s not what you might think.

First there is the rigmarole of the bai chaeng khwam, the police report.  Did you note the licence number of the taxi, which is helpfully stencilled inside the cab?  Of course not.  Did you note the driver’s name on the dashboard card?  Even less likely.

OK, so where did you take this taxi?  It turns out he got off outside a hotel.  At last, a spark of hope.  Many hotels have CCTVs covering their forecourts, and more importantly, the images are clear enough to decipher car number plates.  (Police traffic cameras don’t have the resolution and the BMA cameras – well, how many days does the average tourist have left in Bangkok?  Likely not long enough to get access.)


So the tourist is told that with the police report, he can go and view the hotel’s CCTV footage.

He can go.

So he sets off on his own investigation.  He is lucky.  The hotel lets him look, he finds the relevant images and he learns the taxi licence number.  He now returns to the police station.

And again he is lucky.  He has to deal with the officer who signed his police report.  No other officer will touch the case, and fortunately the officer concerned is on the premises (but off duty) but he goes to the trouble of punching the licence number into the vehicle database.

More luck.  That licence number is actually registered to a taxi (a surprising number of cabs seem to be cruising round on false plates) and the taxi belongs to a ‘cooperative’.  Sounds nice and I am sure there is some legal finesse that allows this, but to all intents and purposes, it is a taxi rental company.  The officer even tries calling the cooperative, but alas, like so many of its cabs on the road, there is no response.

No matter.  The tourist is now given the name and address of the cooperative and told he can go and see them and find out what they know.

He can go.

I don’t know the end of this story.  But the chances of a non-Thai-speaking foreigner turning up at a taxi garage and finding out anything, let alone getting his phone back, are pretty close to zero.

Far lower than, say, him going home phone-less and telling all his mates that in Thailand, they have do-it-yourself policing.

But not the worst blemish on the image of the Royal Thai Police of late.

This has been besmirched by the Ko Tao alleged rape story.  A tourist claims to have been raped and alleges that police refused to record her allegations.  Pol Maj Gen Surachate ‘Big Joke’ Hakparn, deputy chief of the tourist police and investigator of any crime that makes the front page, claims that the alleged rape could not have happened because of the tide and crowds watching the world cup.

Cue outraged self-importance and charges against 2 websites reporting the alleged rape and 11 hapless souls who also ‘reported’ it by clicking ‘share’ (and no charges against the dozens and dozens of other media reporting the alleged rape).

Now these prosecutions are being ridiculed all over the international media, which does nothing for the image of Thailand and the Thai justice system.

But let us return to this allegation that an attempt to report the rape was thwarted, first by the victim going to the wrong police station and second by the wrong person, a friend of the victim and not the victim, going to the right police station.  Could this be true?  Is there anything in Thai police procedures that might discourage victims of rape or sexual assault from filing a report?

It is claimed that there is a law or a regulation that all such cases involving a female victim must be investigated by female police officers.  I have personally witnessed 2 such cases handled by male officers.  If there is any such rule, then the simple fact is that the police don’t follow it.

And in future they will be even less likely to do so.  On the same day they were cracking down on malicious websites, the RTP, without the slightest embarrassment, compunction or explanation, and in blatant violation of the Gender Equality Act and Thailand’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, announced that the Royal Police Cadet Academy will accept no women as of next year.

It was later explained that this decision came from the Ministry of Defence, which is odd, since the MoD has no jurisdiction over the RTP.  It turned out to be one of those weaselly ‘no, we’re not discriminating; it’s just that you need certain qualifications that women can’t get’ arguments that once blocked the possibility of female governors.

And that is another news story with the legs to go all round the world and heap more ignominy on the RTP.

It is undeniably true that the image of the Thai police has been severely damaged in the recent past.  But mostly by people wearing brown uniforms.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).


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