The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, October 06, 2005


© Duncan Graham 2005

Last year Herman Ibrahim from the Islamic pressure group Indonesian Council of Defenders of the Faith, commented on police calls for public help to catch Azahari Husin, the alleged JW Marriott Hotel bomb maker.

The former army colonel was reported as saying: ‘This is creating paranoia; after all Azahari’s actions are the concerns of only the West. The people are not the targets. Let the police do their own work.’

The lack of support for police investigations isn’t confined to Indonesia where there’s reluctance to report wrongdoers.

In Australia the ancient code of ‘Not Dobbing In A Mate’ has also hindered official inquiries. Your neighbor may be acting unlawfully, but he’s not a bad sort of bloke and who wants to cause strife?

This barrier to a safer society is the major hurdle the Indonesian police face in implementing their imported Community Policing policy introduced last week. (28 Sept)

In Indonesia any bule planning a low profile is on a fool’s mission. In the Surabaya community where I live every movement is monitored. A cough outside the gate at nightfall will ensure people streets away at daybreak will ask if I’m sick.

There’s nothing sinister about this surveillance. It’s not exclusive to foreigners, just part of traditional Indonesian culture of togetherness.

Which raises the clear point: the activities of the Bali bombers must have been noted by neighbors for absolutely nothing goes unnoticed in this country.

Apart from the unofficial stickybeaks all villages have their leaders. The city street equivalent is the Rukun Tetangga (RT) who is supposed to know everyone and what they’re doing. These are the neighbourhood heads visitors must report to; if you want any sort of official document chances are you’ll need the RT’s autograph.

Wherever the bombers planned their evils deeds, in kampung, hotel, apartment or village, it’s impossible to believe the locals weren’t aware of abnormal comings and goings.

US author Suzanne Charle has identified ‘a sort of Muslim political correctness’. She defines this as the reluctance of even moderate Muslims to speak out against their ‘brother Muslims’ involved in terror lest the critics be seen as lackeys of the West.

The police in Australia may be trusted more than those in Indonesia but there’s still a great gap between law enforcers and a public that also doesn’t want to be seen as a tool of the authorities.

Community policing is the track now being followed. In Western Australia it includes name changing (Police Force to Police Service), open prosecution of officers who break the law, ‘Crimestopper’ toll-free phone numbers to report suspicions, and intensive public relations campaigns to boost the image.

Improved training, preferably by independent educators, higher wages and promotion by merit are also key factors. So is better recruitment, with selection for brains, not brawn. Psychological testing can sort the thugs who want to swagger around with pistols on their belts from those who see their life’s mission as helping people.

The media can assist with projects like Cop of the Month, where readers nominate helpful police officers, to supporting police-run Blue Light Discos where teenagers can have a good time without drugs or booze.

To be effective the campaigns must be consistent and permanent. Just hanging out a few banners proclaiming wars on thieves, drugs or beggars doesn’t work if the policy fades along with the bunting and the rank and file officers think it’s all a hoot.

This is social engineering big time and results are slow in coming. In Australia it took time for the old generation of beat-hardened sergeants who’d trained in the university of hard knocks to yield to the new system.

Crime prevention doesn’t carry the adrenalin kick of a shoot-out at a bank heist so inevitably it was seen as ‘soft policing’ – but change has occurred.

A knock on the door by the boys in blue doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been caught lifting paper clips from the office. It could be a friendly chat and advice on home security.

The people at the top don’t have to be Neanderthals in uniform to maintain public order; the commissioner of the police service in Victoria is a woman; the boss in Western Australia has a PhD.

Slowly the public is started to report corruptors. Last year almost 3,000 welfare cheats were prosecuted for abusing Australia’s welfare system. Many were caught after tip-offs from the public who recognised that it was their taxes being stolen.

Thinking police officers everywhere understand their job would be impossible without public cooperation – not through fear but because the community sees policing as a partnership.

Polls indicate less than one per cent of Indonesians support terrorism – but 99 per cent aren’t eagerly helping police stop terrorism.

Unlike Herman Ibrahim they need to recognise that most victims of terrorism are not foreigners, but ordinary Indonesians – and many of them Muslims.

Australians are learning that dobbing-in a criminal mate benefits the public; can Indonesians do the same?

(Duncan Graham has lectured on community policing to the police in Western Australia and East Java.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post Wed 5 Oct 05)


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