What Indonesians think of their police officers

TARGETED? Mr Bambang (centre), deputy chairman of the anti-graft commission, after his release from police headquarters in Jakarta last month. The writer says the arrest was revenge for the naming of Gen Budi as a graft suspect. He had been the certain successor to the outgoing national police chief until that point.


    Feb 02, 2015

    What Indonesians think of their police officers

    IT HAS been years since I saw the Jakarta police's regular programme 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 the 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 programme 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 be found only 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. I once met a participant in the police programme, six years after he appeared on television. His handshake with a handsome police officer had, at the time, provoked cheerful reactions from his friends in his neighbourhood.

    "When we returned home from the police office, a police officer ticketed my mum 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 mum to talk to him outside our car. I saw my mum open her wallet and they shook hands. The traffic police officer smiled broadly 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 no longer see the Loving Police TV programme. It is not impossible that the programme continues and that I have just missed it.

    You do not need to ask a professor or genius when you want to know how Indonesians perceive the police: "Corrupt and intimidating." Such an answer would not be surprising at all.

    There is a famous joke about the risk of reporting a crime to the 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 your bicycle back 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 anti-graft body. They were outraged by the police act because it was undeniable that Mr Bambang's arrest was revenge for the naming of Budi Gunawan as a graft suspect. The adjutant to then president Megawati Sukarnoputri had been the certain successor to outgoing national police chief Sutarman until that point.

    Despite his status as a graft suspect, nine out of 10 factions in the House of Representatives gave Commander General Budi a standing ovation after they officially endorsed his nomination.

    Some of them even warned President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo not to try to cancel Gen Budi's appointment.

    Regardless of the personal attitude of KPK commissioners like Mr Bambang and Abraham Samad, they have contributed much in 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? Recently, an army colonel invited his friends to dinner at a restaurant in East Jakarta. He is a very smart and capable officer. He drove a 10-year-old car. The dinner menu was very simple. His wealth was almost nothing compared with a younger friend, a police officer whose rank was lower than the army officer's.

    After Suharto's fall in May 1998, the Indonesian military (TNI) was committed to return to barracks. Since then, the TNI has only been in charge of external security. The police took over all the military's domestic duties. It then became a super-state institution, an untouchable force.

    Now, the TNI is controlled by the Defence Ministry, and the national police should actually 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. Politicians do not need to preach to us on their reason for defending Gen Budi. People at the grassroots level have already come to their own conclusions.

    Of course, not all Indonesian police officers are crooks. Many of them work hard for the people. We should not oversimplify the problem. Many of them have even lost their lives protecting society.

    I wish I could see the Loving Police TV programme with kindergarten pupils again. I also wish they would be asked who their idol in the Indonesian police is.

    I guess they would cheerfully shout: "General Budi Gunawan!"