Jakarta – The recent dismissal of a middle-ranking officer with the North Sumatra Police is a repeat of the scandal surrounding a taxman now being investigated for alleged graft.
There should be no hesitation from the police in launching a corruption probe into Achirudin Hasibuan, following the discovery that he had been receiving gratuities from a diesel storage warehouse under his protection since 2018.
Achirudin was dishonorably discharged from the force after an ethics hearing found that he had done nothing to stop his son from assaulting a university student last December.
In the case of tax official Rafael Alun Trisambodo, his son's abducting and assaulting a teenager led the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to uncovering bribes he had allegedly received from clients of his tax consulting firm.
Police have named Achirudin as a suspect in his son's assault case. They have also hinted at possibly widening the scope of their investigation into the former operations chief of the North Sumatra Police drug crimes department to cover corruption and money laundering.
Over the last few years, the National Police have seen their credibility on the line due to a number of scandals involving high-ranking officers.
Two police generals were found guilty of accepting bribes to facilitate the repatriation of fugitive businessman Djoko S. Tjandra in 2021. This February, police general Ferdy Sambo was sentenced to death after he was convicted of the premeditated murder of an aid.
Still another police general, Teddy Minahasa, is at the West Jakarta District Court with a verdict expected next week in his drug crime trial, for which prosecutors have demanded capital punishment.
The hall of shame does not stop there, and the legal ramifications related to corrupt police generals have resulted in a standoff between the National Police and the KPK on at least two occasions.
The public has also been shocked by graft cases involving low-ranking officers. Most prominent among these are Labora Sitorus, who was arrested in 2013 for oil smuggling and illegal logging in Papua to bag Rp 1.5 trillion in illicit gains, and Ismail Bolong, who raked in trillions of rupiah from an illegal coal business in East Kalimantan.
Achirudin only adds insult to injury in terms of the National Police's reputation as a law enforcement agency and protector of the people.
But the rogue element should account for a very small percentage of the more than 434,000-strong police force.
This is reflected in the results of the latest Indikator opinion poll, which discovered surprisingly high public trust in the country's police at 70.8 percent in February 2023, up for a third consecutive month from 66.5 percent in December 2022 and 60.5 percent in November 2022.
Among the reasons given for the high level of trust is the police's commitment to solving cases that involve high-ranking officers. The respondents were particularly satisfied with the way police handled the Sambo investigation amid reported factionalism within the force. The respondents also praised institutional reforms aimed at promoting police transparency.
The police, however, cannot rest easy on these results. They need to do more to prove that they can serve the public, better and faster. For one, reports still abound of policemen asking for "fees" from traffic offenders or driver's license applicants.
To some extent, Achirudin's as well as previous scandals point to an internal oversight mechanism that does not work well: It took the North Sumatra Police nearly five years to discover the gratuities Achirudin had been receiving since 2018.
More initiatives are needed to build a credible and professional police bureaucracy. For starters, the police chief could require wealth reports from officers in strategic posts that are prone to bribery.
In an era of openness, such measures are a must.