The early cops catch the sleepy suspects

LONG ARM OF THE LAW: Under Malaysia's new National Security Council Act, security forces now have broad powers to arrest people and search their property without a warrant. And they are not held accountable for their actions.


    Oct 06, 2016

    The early cops catch the sleepy suspects

    WHEN news broke on how the Malaysian police conducted an early morning raid on my former colleague's home to arrest him, I was shocked and incensed.

    Norlin Wan Musa, also a former colleague, wrote how she and her husband Sidek Kamiso were awakened by plainclothes policemen at 4.40am on Sept 19.

    The cops had jumped their gate and banged on the door of their home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, demanding entry without a warrant of arrest or search.

    "They came in and took his phone, went upstairs to our bedroom to look around and later insisted on going into my kids' room.

    "I refused to let them in and told them I will not allow them to intimidate my children," wrote Ms Norlin in a blog post.

    The raid drew plenty of criticism from many who felt such action to nab someone for the alleged crime of sending a tweet that purportedly insulted Islam was an overkill.

    Surely the police could have called Mr Sidek and asked him to present himself at the police station for questioning.

    While we would think such stealth operations should only be conducted on suspects wanted for serious and violent crimes, such raids are really common police procedures.

    Scotland Yard has been using this nab tactic since at least the 1960s, with its preferred time being between five and seven in the morning.

    This led to the creation of a cartoon character called Woman Police Constable Dawn Raid for conducting the "six o'clock knock".

    I learnt all this from an insightful comment by Duncan Campbell in The Guardian which was prompted by British police dawn raids on newspaper executive Rebekah Brooks and five others when investigating allegations of phone hacking at News International in 2011.

    Mr Campbell asks the question I had in mind: How necessary is such a tactic and why can't arrests of people who are not an immediate danger to the public or an obvious flight risk be left until the sun is in the sky?

    He answers with two main reasons: Firstly, the people of interest to the police are most likely to be home sleeping at that time.

    "But, secondly and crucially, the timing of the raid can put the police at a profound psychological advantage.

    "There is nothing more dis-orientating than the ring of a bell (or banging on the door) when the body is still halfway between sleep and wakefulness.

    "The arresting officers are at an immediate advantage over the sleepy, unwashed detainee.

    "If a search of the property is planned, the sheer unexpected nature of the raid minimises the risks of evidence being hidden," writes Mr Campbell.

    So if dawn raids are a useful and effective stock tactic for police around the world, we can expect our men in blue (and plainclothes) to carry on, despite public anger and criticism.

    That, however, doesn't mean we have to quietly accept it. Instead, we must ensure extreme strong-arm tactics and excessive force never become part of the process during raids.

    So far, we have none of that here but we can be forewarned by what's happening in the United States.

    The police there are getting bad press for the shooting of suspects, usually African-Americans.

    But there is also growing anger at dawn raids because of extreme methods used.

    Lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham makes what he calls "warrior cops", which is the militarisation of the police force, a central theme in his book, Rogue Lawyer.

    And that brings to mind Malaysia's National Security Council (NSC) Act which came into force on Aug 1.

    Security forces can, without a warrant, arrest, search people, seize control of properties or destroy unoccupied buildings in a declared security area.

    They can also use unspecified "reasonable and necessary" force to carry out their duties but if it results in deaths, they are immune because there can be no inquest by magistrates or coroners. And there are no means to challenge the compensation, if any, paid for damaged property.

    We may take comfort in the assurances by the government leaders that the NSC Act aims only to protect our safety in the name of national security.

    But what guarantees do we have that future leaders will be just as honourable and not use this powerful legal weapon to take down opponents, silence dissent and stay in power?