Kiki Siregar, Jakarta – On Oct 14, Indonesian President Joko Widodo summoned hundreds of regional police chiefs and high-ranking officers to the presidential palace.
He told them: "Do refrain from being authoritarian. Do avoid repressive approaches."
Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, is cognisant of the growing public anger towards the police.
His comments came after a football match between Malang's Arema FC and rival Persebaya Surabaya ended in mayhem on Oct 1. Police fired tear gas at spectators, triggering panic that led to a stampede and more than 130 deaths.
Three police officers have now been charged with negligence leading to deaths.
The Malang football stadium stampede is not the only reason why Jokowi decided to summon the police.
Other high-profile cases recently have also contributed to falling public trust in the police.
Experts interviewed by CNA have urged immediate police reforms, while the national police chief said that he will prioritise the matter.
Recent high-profile cases
On Oct 14, Jokowi told police officers that in November last year, the public confidence in the police was at 80.2 per cent, partly due to the police's success in helping to promote COVID-19 vaccination.
However, he noted that the figure was down to 54 per cent in August.
"It is a tough undertaking to restore public confidence in the institution following the current unfavourable situation," said the president, citing data from a local pollster.
According to him, the reason for the drop in trust in August was because of the case involving now-sacked Inspector General Ferdy Sambo.
The former two-star general has been charged with the premeditated murder of his bodyguard Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat after the latter died under unusual circumstances. Sambo is now on trial and could face the death penalty.
The Indonesian leader also revealed there have been public complaints against the police.
"As much as 29.7 per cent of the people's complaints against the police is about illegal fees. Please pay attention to personnel that collect illegal fees," he stated on Oct 14.
On the same day, news broke about another criminal case involving the police. Inspector General Teddy Minahasa Putra was arrested on drug charges.
It happened days after the two-star general was appointed as East Java police chief, replacing Inspector General Nico Afinta who was removed following the Kanjuruhan stadium stampede.
Mr Bambang Rukminto, an analyst from Jakarta-based think tank Institute of Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), said that the recent cases may be the "tip of the iceberg".
"They are an accumulation of problems within the police that have been going on for years and there has been no improvement.
"That's why we have the Sambo case, then the Kanjuruhan, and then Teddy Minahasa (Putra)," he said, adding that other cases such as online gambling, drug cases and illegal mining have also been uncovered.
Police reforms have not been successful: Analysts
Analysts told CNA that the root cause is because police reforms have not been successful over the years.
After the fall of authoritarian president Soeharto in 1998, Indonesia pledged to reform the military and the police.
Previously, the police were under the military. With the reforms, they split into separate entities.
The police role as stated in a 2002 law is to maintain security and order, enforce the law and provide protection as well as serve the people.
But Mr Rukminto told CNA that the police then became too powerful as there is no external institution that could control them.
"There is the National Police Commission (Kompolnas) but it only gives advice and suggestions, it cannot take concrete action," he said.
Mr Sugeng Teguh Santoso, head of non-governmental organisation Indonesia Police Watch (IPW) said the problems occur because there is no clarity over the authority of the police.
"They feel that they can use their rank and positions arbitrarily. That's why they tend to abuse their authority, take arbitrary actions, show violent behaviours, and are permissive towards bribes and receiving money," Mr Santoso said.
Mdm Maria Puspitasari, a lecturer from the University of Indonesia's School of Strategic and Global Studies said the problem is that not every police officer has been well educated when it comes to ethics.
"This will continue to persist as long as the system is based on protecting each other," she said, referring to how colleagues tend to cover up each other's wrongdoings.
Not every officer behaves badly: Police Commission
In an interview with CNA, Kompolnas Commissioner Poengky Indarti noted that the cases involving Ferdy Sambo and Teddy Minahasa are related to the abuse of power.
But the stampede in Malang's stadium is different, she said. "For the Kanjuruhan case, I think the problem is complex because it involves other institutions."
She was referring to how there were other factors that lead to the stampede, including match organisation issues.
Her colleague Albertus Wahyurudhanto, who is also a commissioner, shared a similar view. He said that not every police officer behaves badly. "In the rural area there are no problems," he stated.
Mr Wahyurudhanto also believed that the police are under the spotlight because they are directly interfacing with the public, unlike the military.
He said: "The national police is an organisation that interacts with the public the most, every day. It is needed by the public.
"So it is natural that the public's perception of the police is very dynamic. Sometimes, it is high but if there is a problem, it could drop drastically."
Nevertheless, he said that police reforms are urgent, and this needs to be done starting with a revision of the 2002 police law.
Mr Rukminto of ISESS concurred, but he noted that this can only be done by the parliament.
I Wayan Sudirta, a member of parliament who oversees security issues said that the police force needs a new system and design.
"The national police need a new strategy very badly... They also need a total reform in the structure and culture of the institution," he told CNA.
But he stopped short of saying whether the members of parliament intend to amend the 2002 law, including on potential oversight of police actions.
For now, the police have yet to fully spell out measures to regain public trust.
While inaugurating nine new police chiefs including a new East Java police chief, national police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo said last Tuesday (Oct 18) that he will prioritise the matter.
"I will follow everything closely, I will monitor. I will re-evaluate those who cannot deliver," he said. "We want the police to be firm, humanist, loved and be close to the people."
For Jokowi though, one of the ways to restore the public's trust is for the police to have a humble lifestyle by not showing off their wealth.
"Don't be arrogant and don't show off your expensive cars or luxury motorbikes. Be careful, I remind you to be careful," he asserted when he summoned the police chiefs on Oct 14.
"I have received too many reports regarding luxurious lifestyle. It is a small matter, but it can disrupt trust in the police," he said.
He said that the police should make people feel safe. "No matter what, the police are the people's protectors. Please serve the people even for the little things." – CNA/ks(aw)