The Jakarta Post
It has been years since I have seen the Jakarta Police's regular program with kindergarten pupils on TV. Wearing police uniforms, the children used to visit the Jakarta Police headquarters. They were entertained by charming and innocent-looking police officers. The children sometimes opened their mouths, amazed when they were told how Indonesian police acted like superheroes in Japanese cartoons by enforcing justice and combating crime.
In nearly all the episodes that I watched, all the children raised their hands high when their host asked them, 'Who wants to become a cop?'
The program was aimed at educating Indonesians at a very young age on how the police force serves the country by ensuring that all citizens can live in peace and that crimes can only be found in cheap movies or foreign cartoons.
But I always wondered why the police never invited junior or senior high school students to the promotional activities. Once I met with a participant in the police program, six years after his face appeared on television. His handshake with a handsome police officer had, at the time, provoked cheerful reactions from his friends in his neighborhood.
'When we returned home from the police office, a police ticketed my mom because she was driving on the wrong lane. I saluted the officer, but he ignored me. What I still remember was that he asked my mom to talk to him outside of our car. And I saw my mom open her wallet and they shook hands. The traffic police officer broadly smiled at me after that,' said the boy.
His perfect illusion about the police force had disappeared within just a few hours. It was easier for me then to guess why I could no longer see the 'Loving Police' TV program. It is not impossible that the program still continues and that I have just missed it.
You do not need to ask a professor or a genius when you want to know how Indonesians perceive police: 'Corrupt and intimidating'. Such an answer will not be surprising at all.
There is a famous joke about the risk of reporting a crime to police. 'You lost your bicycle. After you report it to police, then you lost your motorcycle,' meaning that the money you have to spend to get back your bicycle will be equal to the price of a motorcycle.
When the police recently arrested and handcuffed the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chairman Bambang Widjojanto, thousands of people in Jakarta and other cities took to the streets or used social media to defend the antigraft body. They were outraged by the police act because it was undeniable that Bambang's arrest was revenge for the naming of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as a graft suspect. The adjutant to then president Megawati Soekarnoputri was the certain successor to outgoing National Police chief Sutarman until that point.
Despite his status as graft suspect, nine out of 10 factions in the House of Representatives gave Budi a standing ovation after they officially endorsed his nomination.
Some of them even warned President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo not to try to cancel Budi's appointment.
But regardless of the personal attitude of KPK commissioners like Bambang and Abraham Samad, they have contributed much to the country's war against corruption.
They have acted in accordance with the instruction the state gave them: catch the raiders of the state coffers!
How about our National Police? Last week an Army colonel invited his friends to dinner in a restaurant in East Jakarta. He is a very smart and very capable officer. He drove a 10-year-old car. The dinner menu was
very simple. His wealth was almost nothing compared to another younger friend, a police officer whose rank was lower than the Army officer.
After Soeharto's fall in May 1998, the Indonesian Military (TNI) was committed to returning to barracks. Since then the TNI has only been in charge of external security. Police took over all of the military's domestic duties. It then became a super-state institution, an untouchable force.
Now, the TNI is controlled by the Defense Ministry and the National Police actually should be put under the Home Ministry.
But until now it remains under the President's direct control.
There is no doubt at all that the nation needs the police. The KPK is ideally just for a temporary mission. But what happens now? For many Indonesians, if not most of them, the police look scary. We will likely feel nervous when a traffic police officer approaches our car at a traffic light. Only when we cannot avoid it at all, will we go to a police office. Is this just an exaggerated perception?
Right or wrong, ridiculous or not, the public will always be on the side of the KPK against the police. The politicians, the 'owners' of political parties, do not need to preach to us on their reason to defend Comr. Gen. Budi. People at the grassroots level have already come to their own conclusions.
Of course not all Indonesian police are crooks. Many of them work hard for the people. We should not over-simplify the problem. Many of them have even lost their lives in protecting society.
I wish that I could see the 'Loving Police' TV program with kindergarten pupils again. I also wish that they would be asked about who is their idol in the Indonesian Police.
I guess they would cheerfully shout, 'General Budi Gunawan!'
The writer is a senior managing editor at The Jakarta Post.
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