On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Nothing short of betrayal


IT’S pathetic. Four months ago, police announced a record-breaking seizure of nearly RM50mil worth of assorted narcotics from illegal drug labs in three locations in Johor Baru. But last week, everything went terribly wrong when syabu worth RM1mil disappeared from the Johor state police headquarters.

When a theft takes place in a police station, even a child can tell you that it is an inside job. In short, the thief or thieves were cops: Crooks in police uniform, to be precise.

The stolen syabu was part of the seizure from an operation in March, where 12 suspects were arrested, including three Singaporeans and a Thai woman.

They were said to be involved in manufacturing the drugs, which were meant for export, at the makeshift laboratories.

Now, what is troubling is that after the news were reported by The New Straits Times, its reporters were immediately summoned to the police station, where their statements were recorded.

The police, it seemed, were unhappy that they had reported that acid had been used to melt the padlock to the storage room.

That is beside the point. The fact is that the drugs, which were evidence in the pending court case, had been stolen. The cops should have been busy recording statements from their colleagues in the police station.

Tarnished image

It may not be the intention of the police to harass or intimidate the reporters but, unfortunately, that is the perception given.

Johor state police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff is expectedly aghast with the theft since it has taken place under his nose and has said two policemen have been detained for investigations. The policemen, he added, were low-ranking personnel.

This is not the first time that drugs kept inside police stations have been stolen and, unless a serious review of the operating procedures is properly conducted, we would be reading more of such news.

In fact, what would be more essential is to have more honest cops.

In April 2005, the Shah Alam High Court was told that over 60,000 psychotropic pills, which were to be used as evidence in a trial, disappeared. Worth RM1mil, the drugs were stolen from a vault at the Selangor Narcotics Department. Those present at the trial watched in shock when each of the three boxes in which the pills were supposed to be stored turned out empty.

Malaysians reading these news have good reason to be shocked and angry because not only do they have plenty of reasons to suspect the culprits in uniform have become thieves but also that they are drug distributors all in one.

It is right for Mohd Mokhtar to come out strongly in the news. He said a police report was made by officers attached to the Johor Narcotics Department on July 31. His press conference was on Aug 6 after the news broke out – almost a week after the theft.

The damage is done. Now, the police have to regain their credibility by acting swiftly against the dirty policemen. If found guilty, they should be jailed, and not transferred.

Malaysians are finding it hard to accept that civil servants, including those at enforcement agencies, are merely transferred to another desk when there’s evidence of their wrongdoings. Such inaction, akin to a slap on the wrists, just cannot be tolerated.

In the case of the break-in in Johor, the Anti Corruption Agency should also step in to carry out its own probes.

While Selangor has the highest crime rate in Malaysia, the perception is that Johor is a crime-infested state because of the number of high-profile crime cases there.

Betrayed trust

The police in Johor may be short-handed and face a unique problem of having a long coastal area facing two countries. But the break-in at the Johor police station has caused serious damage to the credibility of the police force.

If even the vault of the Johor police headquarters isn’t safe, what kind of confidence can the Johor state police instil in the common people?

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan has described those involved in the theft of the syabu as traitors who have brought shame to the force.

Now, he must take personal interest in this case and mete heavy punishment on the crooked policemen. It would not be enough to merely justify that there would always be some black sheep in the force.