Police reform: ‘Help, instead of just making demands’

 |Sep 18, 2017
Catherine Young. – MO pic by Azrol Ali.

KUALA LUMPUR: Civil societies and non-governmental organisations (NGO) who wish to see reform with regards to the police force should try to help instead of just making demands.

In saying this, Oxford Analytica Foundation’s Executive Director Catherine Young remarked that in order for the police to be able to carry out reform or transformation towards ethical policing, many factors come into play and it is not in the hands of the police force, alone.

Young was met on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion on ‘Transforming Police Towards Ethical Policing’ organised by Asli and the Social Care Foundation at the Royal Lake Club, here, today.

Also present at the roundtable today were social activist Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, member of Asli’s board of director Tan Sri Dr Ramon Navaratnam and philantropist Tan Sri Robert Phang.

She advised civil societies and NGOs to try and provide solutions and support the police. This is so the police see themselves working in partnership, and not in contradiction with the population.

“Give the police as many tools as possible,” she told Malaysia Outlook.

When asked if it would be better for reform if the police force is totally independent from the government of the day, Young said technically, the police force will always have to be answerable to the government in someway.

What is needed, she said, is for political parties to respect the independence of the police.

“If you can get multi party support for the police, then it doesn’t matter who comes in and out of power,” she said, adding that political parties should work together towards a police force that is trustworthy, with integrity, respects human rights and free from corruption.

“If all parties can get that as part of their campaign messaging then you’re much less likely to get big swings,” she said.

Young opined that the problem comes because a tough on crime approach is much easier for politicians to get elected.

“People like tough on crimes. In someways you need to figure out what the public is asking for. Do they want tough on crimes or human rights. Because sometimes the two conflict.

“They’ll say ‘we want human rights but we want you to be tough on crimes’. So the police will start rounding up people maybe without due process. So in some ways, the police and the politician will respond to what the people ask,” she said.

When NGOs and civil societies ask for something, Young said there is a need to try and figure out how they can balance it out as they too need to take into account the opposite argument.

“So if you’re saying respect for human rights, but also agree on crime reduction, that’s how you can reduce crime without violating human rights,” she said.

With regards to the police reform in general, Young opined that globally, it tends to be ‘two steps forward and one step back’.

“You can have some very good police reform that start work and the political climate changes or the police director changes and the reforms are brought back.

“It can work and move forward but there are quite often these setbacks. The key is to anticipate as many of them as possible. So police, civil societies, governments if you can anticipate how these negative challenges might happen, how and when, then you can help and anticipate and provide mitigation against them.”

MO pic by Azrol Ali.

At the roundtable, Young, who is a litigation attorney and has worked on various humanitarian projects around the world, spoke on the global macro trends of transforming the police force towards ethical policing, in which she mentioned that police reform is a complex and difficult matter as there is no set formula.

“Many factors contribute to the success or failure of police reform efforts, including political environment where reforms are more likely to endure if they have broad cross party political support,” she said.

She mentioned that reform efforts often fail because they attempt to fix the most visible policing problems without addressing the underlying institutional deficiencies that are the root cause of these problems.

In order to make reforms last, she said, there is a need to change minds from within, combined with multiple accountability structures, as this greatly increases the likelihood of reforms enduring.

Another presenter at the roundtable was Dr Matt Bostrom, former sheriff of Ramsey County, Minnesota and currently leading a research project at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Criminology, who spoke on increasing police-community trust. – MO

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Farah Harith has been in the media industry since 2008. Her field of work has been predominantly centred on politics and human interest. She joined the industry to have a better grasp on the issues plaguing the masses.