POLICE AND VIGILANTISM IN INDONESIA

POLICE IN INDONESIA

The National Police of Indonesia (the Polri) is dominated by police that have military training rather than local law enforcement training. The police has reputation for making mistakes and having connections with local thugs and gangsters and perpetrators of hate crimes against Chinese, Christians and other groups. In 2008, Transparency International Indonesia ranked the police force as the most corrupt institution in the country, citing rampant cases of bribery. And last December, only 37 per cent of university students said in a survey that the police performed well.

Article 30 of the constitution established the existence of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and the National Police of Indonesia (Polri). The constitution further specifies that the role of the military is national defense, and the role of the police is public order and domestic security. However, the constitution does not explicitly establish the principle of civilian control of the security forces, leaving this matter to the laws on the military and police. Both of these institutions report directly to the president rather than through a cabinet minister, such as (for the military) the minister of defense or (for the police) the minister of home affairs or the minister of justice and human rights. [Source: Library of Congress *]

“The strength of the Indonesian National Police stood at approximately 285,000 in 2004. The national police force was formally separated as a branch of the armed forces and placed under the Office of the President in 1999. It also includes 12,000 marine police and an estimated 40,000 People’s Security (Kamra) trainees who serve as a police auxiliary and report for three weeks of basic training each year. There has been occasional friction between police and the military, with several instances of armed combat between them, usually caused by disputes over “turf” and shady business enterprises.” *

See Corruption, Human Rights, Military

National Police of Indonesia

The National Police of Indonesia (Polri) has been financed, directed, and organized by the central government since 1945. Polri’s main duties are to maintain public order and security. However, its personnel strength is far below the UN-prescribed police-to-populace ratio of 1:350 (the Indonesian ratio is approximately 1:630). For many decades, Polri was a fourth branch of the armed forces, then known as ABRI. In 1999, after the fall of Suharto, the police force was separated from the military and placed directly under the president. As part of this reorganization, the police did away with military ranks and titles and adopted standard international police nomenclature. In the 10 years since Polri ceased being part of the armed forces, it has enjoyed a resurgence in professionalism and an increase in strength. In 2009 Polri’s estimated strength was around 280,000. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Rank-and-file police service is voluntary. Recruits must have at least a sixth-grade education and pass a competitive examination. Other qualifications include physical fitness and good moral character. After three years’ service as ordinary police, personnel with only junior secondary-school diplomas can enter training to become NCOs. Those with three years’ experience as NCOs are eligible for further training to enable them to become candidate officers and eventually enter the officer corps. The majority of the police officer corps enters the force as graduates of the National Police Academy, located near Sukabumi, Jawa Barat Province. The Polri working and ceremonial uniforms are dark brown. *

“Advanced training in vocational and technical subjects is available to regular police, NCOs, and officers. Promotions often are based on performance in advanced education. The Police Command and Staff School at Semarang, Jawa Tengah Province, offers advanced training in administration and logistics to police officers assigned to command units at the subdistrict, district, and Polda levels. *

Organization of National Police of Indonesia

The national chief of police is the highest-ranking police officer in the nation. Like the TNI commander, he is appointed by the president and must be confirmed by the DPR. Assigned to Polri headquarters in Jakarta are a deputy police chief, extensive staff, and several separate administrative bodies that handle specialized police functions. Polri has its own territorial organization, with a police unit and police chief for each province (Regional Police—Polda). Each Polda unit is administratively subdivided at the district, subdistrict, and village levels. Polda Metrojaya, which has responsibility for metropolitan Jakarta, is subdivided into precincts, sections, and police posts. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Each province is assigned police units varying in strength and composition according to the needs dictated by the characteristics of the different areas within that province. These forces are organized as municipal police forces or rural units and are under the operational direction of the Polda commander, who in turn is directly responsible to Polri headquarters. All police elements are charged with supporting the local government in their respective areas. *

Polri has maintained its centralized chain of command but has also been made responsive to the individual provincial governors since the rise of sustained democratic governance. Each governor is authorized to call on the police to respond to emergencies, for example, and both the police chief of an affected region and the governor may request military assistance if police resources prove insufficient. *

Units of the National Police of Indonesia

Police forces are functionally organized into a number of specialized elements. The largest of these is the uniformed police, which includes both the general police, who perform conventional police duties relating to the control and prevention of crime and the protection of property, and the traffic police, who patrol the nation’s roadways and supervise the licensing of drivers and the registration of motor vehicles. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Also part of the uniformed force are the Women’s Police Corps, which has been increasingly integrated into the Polri structure. Female police officers have been transformed from their old orientation, which was primarily directed toward the provision of social services, to a situation in which female police officers are involved in virtually every aspect of Polri missions, including counterterrorism and antiriot duties. The first female provincial police chief was appointed in 2007, in Banten Province. Elite units of special police enforce order in terrorist situations beyond the capability of the regular forces. These units had about 14,000 personnel in 2009, were better armed and more mobile than the general police, and lived in separate barracks under stricter discipline. The special police wear the same uniform as other police but are distinguished by special badges. Plainclothes police have the primary responsibility for criminal investigations, especially in complex cases or in cases involving several jurisdictions. They also handle forensics, intelligence, security, and the technical aspects of crime fighting, such as fingerprinting and identification. *

A small unit, the Sea and Air Police, patrols the national waters and airspace, providing tactical aid to other elements by regulating traffic, guarding against smuggling and illegal fishing, and supplying personnel transport. The unit also participates in disaster relief. Its equipment includes a few helicopters and light airplanes and various small seacraft. The Mobile Brigade, one of the oldest Polri units, was formed in late 1945. Its original tasks were disarming remnants of the Japanese Imperial Army and protecting the chief of state and the capital city. The brigade fought in the Revolution, and its troops took part in the military confrontation with Malaysia in the early 1960s and in the conflict in East Timor from the mid-1970s through 1999. The Explosive Ordnance Devices Unit, formed in 1981, is part of the Mobile Brigade. *

Activities and Duties of the National Police of Indonesia

Police have limited capabilities in responding to criminal acts and other emergencies. They lack sufficient patrol vehicles to respond quickly on a consistent basis, and corruption continues to be a problem. Policemen routinely augment their meager salaries by accepting payments from motorists who violate traffic laws. Police also sometimes charge victims to investigate crimes or to return recovered stolen property. Their lack of motivation and limited investigative ability makes solving complex and complicated crimes challenging. They are, however, improving thanks to programs offered by the USG International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), the USG Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATA), the Bangkok-based International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), and other police training programs sponsored by other countries. [Source: Indonesia 2012 Crime and Safety Report U.S. Department of State, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)]

In Jakarta and throughout Indonesia, American citizens may call the police at 112 for emergencies, but the number is not reliable and is often busy. The RSO recommends that visitors, especially those who are going to remain in Indonesia for an extended period of time, find out what the general cell phone and hard-line phone numbers are for the police station nearest them in the event of an emergency. Police assistance can be obtained by dialing, within Jakarta, 110 or 112, but please note that in most cases the person answering the call may have limited English-language abilities.

Police Crackdowns in Jakarta

In 2005, the Jakarta Post reported: “After their move against gambling and antidrug campaign targeting nightclubbers -- the results of which are yet to be seen -- the Jakarta Police are cracking down on street crime. City Police chief Insp. Gen. Firman Gani said last Thursday, one day before the raids began, that the operation would not only focus on public nuisances but on brutal ruffians working for mass organizations. The operation kicked off the following day, when more than 240 people, believed to be involved in street and other crimes, were apprehended. Sharp weapons, guns, stolen vehicles, gambling paraphernalia, various kinds of drugs and pirated compact discs were confiscated during the raids. [Source: Jakarta Post, August 20, 2005 \~\]

“Firman's bold promise to deal firmly with the network of criminals responsible for the frequent violent raids on nightspots has drawn mixed reactions -- including cynicism -- from the people. Many are hopeful that the police chief will keep his word; others doubt that the police have the guts to discipline such organizations. In certain cases, the police act only after other parties have taken it upon themselves to exercise control over the situation. The most recent case was the dispute in late May between the developer of Taman Permata Buana housing complex in West Jakarta and individuals claiming to own some of the land. The dispute escalated into a deadly brawl due to the involvement of a local patrol group, while the police stood by. The police have faced waves of criticism for failing to take prompt action before the clash, in which a life was lost. \~\

“The police's failure to intervene when nightspots are vandalized -- including the forced closure of a pool hall during the last fasting month by a certain group -- is another example of the law enforcers' ignorance or weakness. None of the gang members involved in that incident were detained. Given the public awareness of the lack of justice in such cases, residents' skepticism is understandable. It is apparent that the authorities have done very little to address concerns over the activities of these hostile groups. It has even been alleged that the authorities, including the police and military, are backing these militant groups and other criminals by allowing them to vandalize private property. And now, consequently, such groups have the power to extort residents who cannot defend themselves. The existence of militant groups is in fact a reflection of people's despair over the country's weak law enforcement. \~\

Police Efforts to Crack Down on Indonesian Student Gang Fights

After a string of acid attacks by student gangs, Jack Hewson of Al Jazeera wrote: “Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama announced the introduction of a compulsory "home study" period between 7pm and 9pm - effectively a curfew. Critics say the measures - to be trialed in Jakarta this month - are unlikely to affect student brawls that usually occur in the daytime. [Source: Jack Hewson, Al Jazeera, October 28, 2013 \+/]

“In recent years schools have been instructed to tighten their regulations and expel students who are found to be involved in tawuran. Adrianus claims improved policing and the introduction of school police representatives - students appointed to discourage and report those involved - has also helped to curb the violence. \+/

“Despite these measures it seems unlikely that Indonesia's historically lax policing will disrupt the tawuran tradition. "In areas where there is a lot of student violence, the public actually retaliates by chasing students who are involved in the fighting and then grabbing them and taking them to the police. "It's good to create that kind of vigilante situation, because if we depend upon the police, then the police are usually quite late arriving on the crime scene," Adrianus said.

Police and Indonesian Urban Gangs

Gang violence in Jakarta is relatively low in part because the influence the law enforcement, exercises over the gangs is great. Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institute wrote: “Indeed, Indonesian gangs have a decades-old history of thick and complex relations with the Indonesia government, primarily its military, intelligence, and police forces, and also with Indonesian political parties that goes back to Indonesia’s independence. That basic set-up of the gangs doing the bidding of the formal powers has weathered dramatic changes in the country’s fundamental political arrangements and forms of rule over the decades. The faces and names of the gangs have changed, but the essential arrangement of official power remaining the true master and overlord of the criminal underground and employing the gangs for the purposes of the state and political bosses – as shady and illicit as these purposes may often be – has persisted. [Source: Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings Institute, February 6, 2013 |*|]

“Nonetheless, the concept and language of “alternative livelihoods” for the preman have seeped into political discourse and policies in Indonesia. Formally organizing the gang members in official security or debt-collection companies has been described as one form of “alternative livelihoods.” This approach has several limitations: One is that the amount of jobs these companies generate is still vastly fewer than the amount of jobs provided by the gangs. Second, the “services” that the gang members obtain from belonging to a gang go beyond employment and regular services and are not matched by the formal security companies. And fundamentally, as long as the formal security or debt-collection companies behave no less thuggishly than the informal gangs, they are merely a cover for the same old nexus of political-power-formal-business-and-crime that has characterized the Indonesian scene. |*|

Rivalry Between the Police and Army in Indonesia

Under Suharto, the 100,000-member police force was under military control. In 1999, the two forces were divided. Both the police and the army have been accused of being involved in illegal logging, prostitution and drug dealing. After they were divided the police were in a better position to get money for such sources because they had more jurisdiction of local affairs, which was where the money was. As a rule, the generals get the lionshare of the money made on the national level.

There is a lot of competition between the police and the military. In areas of unrest, the police have clashed with the military over “security money” given by local businessmen and stakes in illegal logging. A brothel in Jakarta was shut down due to a fight over profits between the police and military. On the rivalry, one analyst told Time, “It’s about power, control and money” plus “many military personnel cannot accept being told what to do by police.”

The police and army fought 15 times in 2001 ad 2003. In one clash, an Air Force sergeant was arrested by police after a fight with a civilian. After the sergeant was released the Air Force people became furious that information about the sergeant had been turned over to the civilian involved in the fight who wanted to file a complaint. Sixty Air Force personnel attacked a police station, stabbing one policeman to death and injuring two others.

National Police of Indonesia and Terrorism

The exigencies of fighting separatist insurgents in Aceh and Papua required the rapid expansion of the Mobile Brigade. Between 1998 and 2005, it grew from 7,500 to approximately 34,000 personnel. Such a rapid expansion brought problems in training and discipline, and the Mobile Brigade has come to be regarded by many observers as the least disciplined and most brutal of all forces deployed against insurgents. It is essentially a paramilitary organization trained and organized along military lines. The brigade is used primarily as a deployable combat force in emergencies, aiding in police operations requiring quick action. It also works in domestic security and defense operations and has special riot-control equipment. Elements of the force also are trained for airborne operations. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The need to forge a capable police counterterrorism unit in response to the spread of international terrorism resulted in the establishment in 2002 of another elite element, the National Police counterterrorism unit, better known as Detachment 88. This unit was largely funded and trained by the United States and graduated its first cadre in 2003. It has the capability to conduct counterterrorism and modern forensic investigations, and it includes a quick-reaction counterterrorist team. Detachment 88 has been particularly successful in its counterterrorist operations. Its personnel, supported by technical assistance and training from the United States and Australia in particular, have captured or killed many of the most-wanted terrorists in the country, including those responsible for bombings in Bali and Jakarta, terrorism in Sulawesi Tengah Province, and attacks against civilian targets elsewhere in Indonesia. *

See Combating Terrorism

Torture by Police ‘Widespread’ in Indonesia: Amnesty International

In 2009, the Bali Times reported: “Indonesian police commonly beat and torture people in custody and offer better treatment in exchange for money and sex, Amnesty International said in a report released this week. The report, Unfinished Business: Police Accountability in Indonesia, found that the police were particularly brutal to the most vulnerable and marginalised people, such as drug addicts and women. “Amnesty International’s report shows how widespread the culture of abuse is among the Indonesian police force,” the organisation’s Asia Pacific deputy director, Donna Guest, said. “The police’s primary role is to enforce the law and protect human rights, yet all too often many police officers behave as if they are above the law.” [Source: Bali Times, June 26, 2009 ==]

“The report cited the case of 21-year-old sex worker Dita, who was arrested in 2006 and described being sexually abused on the way to the police station. “I was arrested with five or six other prostitutes. On the way to (the station) they were grabbing me and touching me saying, ‘You’re so young. Why aren’t you in school?’,” she was quoted as saying. At the station the women were told they could buy their freedom with US$100 or with sex. “Three of the girls agreed to have sex with them. I point-blank refused to do either. Our pimps have paid them enough already,” she said. ==

“Abuses meted out included shootings, electric shocks and beatings, sometimes for days on end, the report said. “The suspects often received inadequate medical care for the injuries they received as a result of torture and other ill treatment,” Amnesty said. “In some cases detainees had to pay for treatment after police abused them, and received inadequate medical care from police medical institutions.” ==

“The report, based on interviews in Indonesia over two years, said police frequently sought bribes from detainees in return for better treatment or lighter sentences. “At a time when the Indonesian government and senior police figures have made the commitment to enhance trust between the police and the community, the message is not being translated into practical steps,” Guest said. “Too many victims are left without access to real justice and reparations, thus fuelling a climate of mistrust towards the police.” Most police do not even know of, let alone follow, the force’s code of conduct which forbids abuse, she said. Victims’ complaints were not impartially investigated and opened the plaintiff to further abuse, especially if they were still in police custody.” ==

“It is the second report from a major international rights group to condemn torture in Indonesia this month. US-based Human Rights Watch said in early June that torture and abuse of prisoners in a jail in the Papua region was “rampant.” The United Nations has reported that Indonesian police routinely torture and beat suspects in custody. Indonesia is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture but it has no corresponding law against the practice. The UN special rapporteur for torture visited Indonesia in 2007 and found that police used torture as a “routine practice in Jakarta and other metropolitan areas of Java.” A decade of political and institutional reform after the fall of the military-backed Suharto regime in 1998 has not left its mark on the police and prison system, analysts say.” ==

Beauty With a Badge: Jakarta’s Starlet Cops

In 2011, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja wrote in the Strait Times, “There’s First Sergeant Eka Frestya, whose exotic, model-like features often stop male motorists dead in their tracks when she hands them tickets for driving recklessly. Not just a pretty face, the 23-year-old went undercover to help bust a drug dealer last year. There’s Second Lieutenant Eny Kuswidyanti, who has enthralled viewers on a TV cooking show, where she helped to make a dessert called “motley traffic light.” She declined to give her age, but her impish looks suggest she is in her late 20s or early 30s. And there’s Sergeant Avvy Olivia, 28, who could well be a teeny-bopper pop star but who appears on MetroTV as well as on Jakarta’s streets to direct traffic. [Source: Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Strait Times, July 3, 2011 ^=^]

“Together, the trio of attractive police officers are leading a charge by Indonesia’s embattled police force to improve its image. “The public love having clean, nice-looking personnel serving them,” said Sgt Avvy. “This makes them feel happier and more likely to follow traffic regulations.” Their deployment follows a number of surveys which have put the police force in a bad light, mirroring long-held accusations of graft and incompetency. ^=^

“But now, 1st Sgt Eka, 2nd Lt Eny and Sgt Avvy are trying to improve the police’s tarnished image. Since late last year, they and several other female police officers have been appearing on MetroTV to deliver updates on road conditions. This is in addition to their daily duty of directing the traffic on Jakarta’s streets. The attractive officers were selected from dozens of candidates proposed by various offices and departments within the police force. The successful ones were then put through presentation classes under the tutelage of Mudakir Rifai, a former creative director at SCTV. “To serve the public well, to communicate effectively, you need to present a good package,” he said. ^=^

“For now, the publicity efforts by the Indonesian police seem to be working - at least for many men. On Friday, the pretty police officers raised many eyebrows and drew smiles when they distributed roses to passing drivers on busy roads. “They are too beautiful for police officers,” said an impressed Hajoran Siregar, 39, a bank officer. ^=^

Vigilantism in Indonesia

Vigilantism is a problem in Indonesia, and lynching were surprisingly common in the early 2000s. In once case a woman was strangled to death near the city of Bogor by a mob over the theft of eight bunches of bananas. She didn’t even steal the bananas herself: her brother-in-law did. When she tried to stop the mob from taking a goat in compensation for the theft the mob took out their anger on her

In another case a 37-year-old unemployed man who stole a bird nest in the town of Dagduer so he could feed his family was beaten by a mob with bamboo poles and rocks for an hour and then, long past the time he was dead, doused his body with kerosene and set it on fire. In a nearby town a woman was killed and burned for stealing a chicken. People have also been killed for stealing motorcycles, televisions, ducks, goats and shoes. In Jakarta, outside markets and bus stations, mobs on a number of occasions have killed thieves accused of taking things worth only a few dollars.

In the early 2000s, human rights groups estimated that there were more than 1,000 deaths by lynching every year, A single hospital morgue in Jakarta recorded 205 victims in 15 months. Vigilantism is part the result of distrust in the police and legal system.

Indonesia experienced a high level of civil violence from about 1996 to 2003. The cumulative casualty toll was in the thousands, and the number of displaced persons rose to more than 500,000, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees. The predominant theme to this unrest, according to some analysts, was not religion, ethnicity, or politics, but rather a tendency to use extralegal means to exact vengeance and retaliate against enemies. As the Suharto administration began to assume power, it was involved in a bloody retaliation against alleged communist actions during 1965–66; for the next 30 years, vigilante neighborhood watch groups consisting of young men routinely captured and killed alleged thieves without legal process but with the implicit approval of the government. Because the court system was viewed as corrupt and susceptible to bribery, and many law enforcement agencies were nearly bankrupt because of the financial crisis, many Indonesians came to believe that violence was the only route to justice. The violence of 1996–2003 represented a continuation and intensification of these patterns. [Source: Library of Congress]

Indonesian Police Promise to Stop Islamic Vigilante Groups

In 2010, the Voice of America reported: “Indonesia's police chief has promised to stop raids and other violent actions by Islamic vigilante groups. The promise was made earlier this week - Wednesday - at a meeting with human rights activists. They say in the last few months hard line Islamic organizations like the Islamic Defenders Front have disrupted events by political parties and minority groups and have attacked religious gatherings. Hamid Usman with the Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence says there have been a number of incidents of violence by Islamic vigilante groups seemingly without police intervention. He points specifically to the hard line Islamic group Islamic Defenders Front. The group forced the cancellation of a health care rally it believed was led by the banned Indonesian Communist Party, and stormed hotels to prevent a gay and lesbian conference. [Source: VOA, July 15, 2010 |::|]

“Usman also refers to other groups that have attacked Christian churches and other religious organizations. He and other human rights activists, and some members of parliament addressed these issues with Indonesian police officials. "We would think that the violent activities could happen because of the absence of law enforcement, in particular the police. This is why we came to the police," he said. "We urged the national chief of police to take a firm action, to take a firm policy in response to a series of violence." |::|

“Usman says the human rights activists emphasized the need for police to enforce freedom of religion, the rule of law and equal treatment for minorities. He says Indonesian National Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri admitted some local police may have been negligent because they did not want to be seen as anti-Muslim. But Danuri promised to take strong action in the future, especially during Ramadan when islamic vigilante groups have raided bars and ransacked restaurants that served alcohol."He guaranteed that in this coming Ramadan, there would be no violence and he guaranteed that the police will prevent any violence committed by any vigilante group against anyone," said Usman. The national police chief told the group that he will make it known that police officers that fail to protect minorities will be fired. He said he will also try to bring in Islamic and Christians leaders to help diffuse religious tensions and promote tolerance.” |::|

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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