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Jakarta Post

End police power to punish everything under the sun

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, October 15, 2019   /   09:02 am
End police power to punish everything under the sun Police fire tear gas at students rallying in front of the legislative complex in Central Jakarta on Sept. 24. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

A policeman’s abuse of a motorcycle taxi driver who was mistakenly about to enter the palace grounds in Bogor sparked public anger. Although the traffic policeman who beat and kicked the Gojek driver apologized after the video of the abuse went viral on Oct. 5, the outburst perfectly reflects growing anxiety about Indonesia moving closer to becoming a police state. More than 20 years ago, people demanded an end to the military’s “dual function” because of its repeated abuse of power, but over the past decade or so the police also seem to have been enjoying their privileges too much.

We hope to rely on the police for our safety, but instead we’ve become rather nervous as police duties and tasks have come to cover almost everything: from policing bedrooms and petty crimes to dealing with any kind of corruption, terrorism, treason and defamation allegedly committed even just through an updated social media status. The National Police has become a super-body with little control from the outside.

Therefore, in forming his new Cabinet, scheduled to be announced after taking office for his second term on Oct. 20, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will hopefully complete the security sector reform by placing the police force under the Home Ministry, as many have demanded. To realize it, of course, some legal technicalities should be settled.

Jokowi can assign the current National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to be home minister if he is worried about police resistance, although he might also spark a public outcry. The military may welcome Tito’s move into the Cabinet if it is part of a plan to move the police force from directly answering to the President to being under the direction of the Home Ministry.

Gen. Tito has led the police force since July 13, 2016. As the top graduate from the Police Academy in 1987, the former counterterrorism chief was more academically qualified than his predecessors. Under his leadership, the police have been hailed among other things for foiling a terrorist plot following the April general elections.

The choice of then-Insp. Gen. Tito to lead the police starting on July 13, 2016, seemed bold of President Jokowi, as the country’s most powerful politician, Megawati Soekarnoputri, had signaled that another was her favorite for the job, her former adjutant Comr. Gen. (ret) Budi Gunawan, who was then nearing retirement age.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had declared Budi a graft suspect shortly after Jokowi proposed to the House of Representatives in January 2015 that Budi succeed then-National Police chief Sutarman. The court annulled the KPK’s decision but Jokowi finally chose Tito, a younger, much less controversial and more popular officer.

Indeed, according to the 2002 National Police Law, the police are under direct control of the President and the House must approve the appointment or dismissal of a police chief. However, more importantly, we need Jokowi’s political will and courage again to put the police on par with the Indonesian Military (TNI), with both having minimum potential to abuse power.

The harsh, if not militaristic, approach of the police in dealing with mass protests in Jakarta and elsewhere last May and September, the numerous arrests of demonstrators and the death of a number of them have increased resentment against the police’s show of force.

Like the military of old, the police enjoy virtual impunity.

A number of police generals now lead posts normally given to civilians, such as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). It’s all legal, too — a National Police chief decree dated April 12 makes police ranks for the civilian positions compatible with high echelons of civil servants.

Cynics say the police are now enjoying the ‘dwi fungsi ‘(dual function), along with increasing powers and welfare. Occasional clashes involving the police and the TNI reflect the excess of reduced financial opportunities for the military compared to the police.

These range from large security jobs to extorting couples in a romantic embrace in public parks. The military policy and budget are controlled by the defense minister while TNI’s role is limited to defense, although there is considerable leeway in “operations other than war”.

The removal of the police from the president’s direct line of command should also reduce the apparent jealousy of TNI soldiers and officers toward the police. Police personnel are generally more prosperous than those in the three forces. Just visit the houses of police and military officers of equal rank and check for yourself.

Many Indonesians may find it quite hard to quickly answer when asked to identify one aspect of their lives where police cannot interfere. Dealing with the police is among the last things Indonesians want these days, despite experiencing improved services. Many of us feel uncomfortable when a police officer is nearby, like under the old regime.

Ahead of the new government set to begin later this month, this is the right time to reevaluate, again, the position of both the police and military.

The military has long faced temptations to regain its role in politics. This is very dangerous; I cannot imagine active officers regaining civilian positions. However, while foreign enemies have never (yet) come to our front door, which is the main threat the TNI should deal with, it is probably wise to give the military more additional jobs.

Whatever is decided, we should not let our nation become a police state. We need a professional police force, not one that can enter your house anytime it wants.

President Jokowi, please end the police's power to punish everything under the sun.