KUALA LUMPUR: There is a need for law enforcement personnel to learn, practise and master interpersonal skills with the same level of precision required when undertaking physical training, say experts.
Failure to deploy these skills, they said, would lead only to an increase in criticism of lack of sensitivity, empathy, bias and being disrespectful to members of the public, especially during times of heightened feelings, such as the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.
They also believed that if left unchecked, this could result in an erosion of public confidence in the law enforcers.
The police have recently come under fire on social media following a series of incidents concerning its personnel's conduct. These ranged from rude and insensitive remarks made by policemen to those applying for interstate and inter-district travels, to alleged harassment, including sexual harassment, by personnel at roadblocks.
Criminologist and Transparency International Malaysia past president Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar said mastering people skills was a crucial element in building public trust and achieving world-class policing standards.
"These are isolated cases. There are many good and ethical police officers. Sometimes it seems like a thankless job as not many appreciate the force for diligently performing its duties come rain or shine.
"Independent studies and statistics show that the police have been successful in reducing the crime index and crippling gangsterism.
"However, there is a need to display several important characteristics and qualities, as the job requires integrity, fairness, respect for the principles of legality, non-discrimination and humanity.
"Good public relations (PR) and politeness are very important, especially for frontliners. If they need to advise, it can be said professionally as any remarks made demonstrate the organisational image."
He cited a 2019 study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, which noted that police were strongly encouraged to conduct seminars and workshops to enrich police officers' emotional intelligence level as it would be helpful in achieving their mission to produce world-class policing.
Akhbar, who is also HELP University's Institute of Crime and Criminology director, said to tactfully address issues of abuse and harassment, several measures should be taken, starting at the recruitment stage.
Academic qualifications and physique aside, individuals with integrity and possess good, ethical behaviour and personal relations should be recruited.
"Gone are the days where the law enforcement agencies are after personnel with a garang (fierce) face.
"People have changed and are now well-educated. More modules on developing PR skills should be incorporated during training to ensure professional communication between them.
"A highly trained public relations department can help manage an agency's image. (The police force) should also be deploying PR strategies to establish a positive relationship with the community before an incident occurs," he told the New Straits Times.
Akhbar said all police personnel should be required to attend empathy and sensitivity training to master the skill of handling people, besides completing the basic course and knowing the law.
Additionally, he said, individuals with the right academic qualifications, such as with a diploma or degree in criminal justice studies or law enforcement administration, should be sought to develop professional police officers.
He shared four theologies of police officers — the avoiders (ones who avoid work); enforcers (fond of arresting); idealist (mostly theoretical); and professional (knowledgeable, skilled and experienced).
"Policemen who display rude traits come under enforcers. Top officers must always advise and show a good example of professionalism.
"Among the most important qualities that a police officer should possess are integrity, merit, courage to speak the truth, transparency and trust.
"Trust can take years to earn but just a matter of seconds to lose. Even religious doctrine will not be able to change an unethical person as integrity resides in the soul deep inside. Either you possess it or you don't. If you have integrity, you will respect people."
He said to improve policing and ensure all personnel live up to the motto "Polis dan Masyarakat, Berpisah Tiada" (Police and the community, forever united), modern policing practices should be continued.
He said as an example, Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) here reaped the rewards of being one of the first to be part of a modern policing initiative that took almost 20 months, with ultimately a significant reduction in the crime rate.
The TTDI police station had in 2019 said the programme brought the community and police closer together.
Akhbar said if the public faced police harassment or come across rude authorities, they could lodge a report as the police's Integrity and Standard Compliance Department (JIPS) functions to ensure police personnel comply with the integrity guidelines.
"The government should also consider increasing the budget of the force and assist in providing good infrastructure and facilities in ensuring the comfort and welfare of police families."
On Feb 12, a Twitter user with the handle @libertinebabe shared how no empathy was shown when her father sought an inter-district travel permission to attend the funeral of a loved one.
She claimed her father met with a derisive response from the policeman in charge.
"Imagine you had just lost someone you love, then you head to the (police) station to obtain the MCO inter-district travel letter and the police said: 'Biasalah, nak Raya Cina ni banyak lah alasan' (What else is new. There'll be many excuses during the Chinese New Year period).
"What you said really hurts me and my dad. Death is not something you can joke about. As a policeman, you can be strict but not rude," she wrote.
User @knthekhai also shared a similar experience, saying that her mother had died last year on the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri. She said she was stopped at a roadblock and explained the issue but received an insensitive comment from a policeman.
"At the roadblock, the policeman asked: 'betul ke mak meninggal, atau memang niat nak balik kampung beraya' (did your mother really die or do you just want to go back to the kampung to celebrate Raya)?
"I didn't have the energy to argue," she wrote.
Another user @purpinkledays shared her friend's bitter experience with a policeman.
"My friend, a Sabahan, went to request for permission for interstate travel (to head back to Sabah) as he was unable to make a living in the peninsula.
"The police replied saying 'banyak je kerja kat luar tu, pergi la buat Grab ke FoodPanda ke apa. Ni malas ni' (there are plenty of jobs out there. You can ride for Grab or FoodPanda. You are just being lazy)."
Social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye described law enforcement and public trust as the twin pillars of a just society. All law enforcers, including cops, he said, should carry out their duties without fear or favour, with integrity and ethical conduct, which would earn them the public's confidence and trust.
"In as much as the job of law enforcers is to ensure public compliance with existing laws, their actions are also open to public scrutiny," he said.
Lee also commented on the alleged harassment which took place recently. In one of the incidents, a woman claimed that she was asked to lift her blouse and show whether she was wearing a bra or not if she did not want to be fined.
Another woman claimed that a policeman who had earlier stopped her at a roadblock later abused his position by messaging her phone to flirt with her.
Lee said the incidents had caused public resentment against law enforcers and raised issues regarding their work ethics and moral behaviour.
"Incidents of such a nature must be fairly or quickly investigated to get to the truth. If there is any delay, it becomes more difficult to handle the contagion or assuage the innocent.
"Prompt action will not only ensure that justice is done, it will also restore confidence in law enforcement agencies."
He added that netizens should also realise that they should not be too quick to judge and wait for the facts to be investigated and reported.