The police’s long farewell to the Cold War

The Cold War ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was not surprising then when the long undeclared war between the Malaysian government and the Communist Party of Malaya also ended with the Hatyai Peace Accord in the same year. However, 21 years later, the Royal Malaysian Police still operates as if the nation is still at war.

The departure of Tan Sri Musa Hassan and the transition to Tan Sri Ismail Omar will not change anything unless the police revisits its original raison d’état and starts afresh with the new missions suggested by the Dzaiddin Royal Commission in 2005, namely, to fight crime, to uphold integrity, and to comply with human rights principles.

The Royal Malaysian Police’s role in curtailing the communists during the Cold War is internationally recognised, and continues to be cited among security experts in the United States in their discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan as an example of a successful multi-pronged anti-insurgency campaign.

The Malayan Emergency, from 1948 to 1960, was effectively an intensive civil war, especially in the first five years, but not declared as such by the British government to prevent insurance companies in London from inflating prices, which would inevitably jeopardise the profitability of British planters and other interests in Malaya.

Co-ordinated civilian leadership, intelligence and psychological warfare were central to the campaign as the British administration decided at the onset that the war was political in nature and not merely a military operation.

The police was tasked to be the lead agency with a single command chain nationwide and a force expanded many folds while the Malayan national military was only formally set up in 1956 in anticipation of independence.

The Royal Malaysian Police that we know today is the product of such a historical situation. It is a unique institution vis-à-vis police bodies around the world. Many developing countries have strong armed forces with a single national command chain while the police are often miniature by comparison, and on some occasion, part of the military establishment. For instance, the police was only separated from the Indonesian military just a decade ago. In some other countries, such as Australia or the United States, the police are localised forces governed by state or even county authorities.

Not only does the Royal Malaysian Police have a single national command chain, it was a larger force than the Armed Forces until the 1980s, which made it unusually powerful vis-à-vis its counterparts elsewhere. The General Operations Force (previously known as Field Force), the paramilitary unit of the Royal Malaysian Police, was at the forefront of combating the communists, with the military playing the supporting role.

As intelligence and psychological warfare were identified as the core success factors in the war, the Special Branch was arguably the nucleus of the police, and until the late 1970s employed more personnel than the Criminal Investigation Department.

Today, the police’s budget for 2010 is RM4.5 billion and a budgeted personnel strength of 122,655 for 2010. The actual strength is 107,455 as of December 31, 2009, according to a reply by the Home Minister to my question in Parliament.

Malaysia’s crime index exceeded the 100,000 cases in 1997 and 200,000 cases in 2007. While economic crisis causes the spike of crime initially, police inertia exacerbated a sense of impunity. During his tenure as IGP, whenever responding to media uproar about crime, Tan Sri Musa Hassan and, to a lesser extent, the government, has rehashed the oft-repeated mantra about the need for another 60,000 police personnel to fight crime.

But it is really not about having more policemen. The Interpol sets the optimal police-population ratio at 1:250. If every single Malaysian policeman is deployed to fight crime, the ratio is 1:270, which is not far off from Interpol’s optimal ratio.

It is a question of priority.

The General Operations Force comprises 12,746 while the Special Branch has 7,643 officers and personnel. By comparison, the Criminal Investigation Department, with the insurmountable challenge of solving escalating crime, has a strength of 8,449 officers and personnel.

It was interesting to note that both CID and Special Branch had around 6,000 officers each in 2005. The increase of number of police personnel without changing the philosophy and objectives will only see the distribution of new recruits continue as before.

Another 36,669 personnel are in the management department while 10,788 in the logistics department. The Dzaiddin Royal Commission identified in 2005 that 30 per cent of the force were desk bound and their positions can be easily filled by civilians, thus allowing the police to redeploy at least 30,000 trained police onto the streets. This was only taken up this year by the government in a piece-meal fashion where 6,751 desk job bound officers were redeployed onto the streets with 3,557 civilians filling the gap.

The Royal Malaysian Police must get its priority right. But to answer the question of priority, it must bid farewell to its Cold War mentality. For instance, it was even stated in the 2010 Budget that one of the seven key activities of the police is “to safeguard the security of the nation by gathering intelligence through secret and open means on communist, subversive and extremist elements and (shielding the nation) from intelligence and spying of local and foreign threats.”

Two decades after the Hatyai Accord, it is comical to target the communists, even more so in view of Umno’s recent exchange partnership with the Chinese Communist Party.

A change of IGP will not change the police in any way unless the police relinquish its political roles from the time of the Cold War and focus only on fighting crime to make Malaysia safe.


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