On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Getting to bald truth of the matter

The group claimed that they met every year for supper,
drinks and mahjong during the festive occasion at a coffee-shop in Balakong,
Selangor, and had continued the tradition, betting with chips, which they
claimed was merely to pay for food and drinks. They were irked by the manner in
which they were arrested: they were handcuffed and put in a lock-up.

Next, several policemen came into the cell and shaved their
heads. They were reportedly released only at 6pm
the next day.

The police said the men were gambling. They are denying it.
The court will have to decide.

But for now, the police have lost popularity as far as the
public is concerned. The action against the old men certainly seems overly

Coffee-shop operator Chi Kong Eng expressed disappointment that
the police were so hard on his customers by spoiling their celebrations, making
them spend a night in the lock-up and shaving their heads.

His sentiments would probably be shared by many people, no
matter what the police have said.

Kajang CID chief Deputy Superintendent Abdul Fatah Ahmad
reportedly said shaving the heads of detainees was a normal procedure. "We just
want them to look neat and remember; it is so that they will not return to the
lock-up," he said.

Kajang OCPD Asst Comm Mohd Noor Hakim said: "We are just
following the lock-up rules, which state that rambut mesti dipotong
pendek-pendek (hair must be cut short)."

But many Malaysians are likely to ask whether the same
treatment would be accorded to a group of 11 Datuks caught in a similar
situation. Would they too be handcuffed, locked up, and shaved? In fact, from
pictures we have seen in newspapers of people being arrested, many still keep
their hair. What has happened to "rambut mesti dipotong pendek-pendek"? The
consensus is that the police have over-reacted to the baldies.

In recent years, the police, like many government
institutions, have found themselves under scrutiny. That is to be expected in
an emerging civil society where young Malaysians want to have their voices
heard in the running of the country. Leadership and governance are no longer
the domain of politicians and civil servants.

Malaysians want to participate actively and meaningfully in
a civil society and not just during election time, when their votes are needed.

Similarly, the police can no longer operate as they used to
without being subjected to checks and balances. Equating criticism of the force
to eroding the morale of the force is nonsense. Even the Rulers were criticised
during the Mahathir Administration.

There is this perception, even fear, that the police would
lose their authority and power if there is too much submission to

In matters of security, particularly in access to crucial
information affecting the nation, no one would expect a commission or group of
individuals to have carte blanche. That would be foolish and also would
compromise the hard work of the police in protecting the nation.

Similarly, the police must also have the upper hand when
dealing with hardcore criminals. They should not be treated with kid gloves.

But the rights of the people must be protected. Even the
police officers are like any of us once their uniforms are taken off.

No one in his right mind would dare to say that our police
have not done a good job. Yes, all of us know some traffic cop would stop our
cars and ask: "Macam mana mau selesai? (How to settle)" but the force, in
general, has kept our streets safe.

Which is why people will applaud the action by the police in
Segamat who broke up a gathering of two secret societies, arresting 15 people
and seizing seven parang. Surely we feel safer when such people are taken off
the streets.

The decision to send 147 OCPDs to a human rights training
seminar at the end of the month is certainly a progressive step. The three-day
seminar will focus on improving and streamlining arrest and search procedures
and communication skills. We hope this is an on-going programme, as it will
surely help to enhance the image of the police force.

Speakers from universities and the Human Rights Commission
would be invited but the organisers should also invite police officers from
Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and England, where the force have to face the
public with a strong degree of human rights consciousness.

Respect must be earned, as the saying goes.