Mon, Oct 09, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Police need the public's support to be neutral

By Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

On Sept. 19, a woman dressed in red clothing left the area where demonstrators for and against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) were gathered in Tainan. When pro-Chen demonstrators saw she was driving a red car, they became enraged and attacked the vehicle.

Since police at the scene did not protect the woman in a timely fashion, they came in for some criticism. Their inaction was an insult to civil authority, and they had greatly undermined their own authority. Their failure to help someone in need not only failed public expectations but also violated their duties.

On April 10 last year, two policemen were attacked in Sijhih (汐止), Taipei County and their weapons stolen. Hung Chung-nan (洪重男) was killed, while his partner, Chang Ta-hao (張大皞), was saved thanks to the efforts of doctors. Hung's uniform soaked in blood was as red as the "reds" on Ketagalan Boulevard. The color is shocking -- like a punch in the chest.

A few days after the attack, police released video footage of the crime captured by street cameras. Sadly, residents and drivers had tried to avoid or ignore the incident as it played out by pretending they did not see it. If a boy had not yelled that "police are being attacked," Chang could also have died.

Many believe that public order is degenerating, but only some are taking the time to study the problem. After Hung was killed, then National Police Agency (NPA) director-general Shieh Ing-dan (謝銀黨) told a story familiar to most police.

In the UK, a man was about to kill a police officer when a woman came forward and placed herself between them and pleaded with the man not to kill the officer.

The story is not surprising for the UK, which is the home of modern policing. The British police have always been seen as public protectors, and generate respect and admiration because of it. People in the UK call policemen "bobbies," deriving from the nickname of Sir Robert Peel, the father of the modern police force. Since mutual trust between police and the public is high, the former are seldom armed.

Sadly, this is not something that could happen in Taiwan. When the attack against Hung and Chang occurred in a crowded suburban area of greater Taipei, none of those in the footage stood up to protect the officers, even though they were helpless without their support.

The confrontation between the pan-blue and pan-green camps is increasing in tandem with the confrontation between pro and anti-Chen forces. At this time of uncertainty, the role of the police as the backbone of stability and impartial enforcement is particularly important. Themis, the goddess of justice, holds a sword in one hand and scales in the other when she judges a person. Police must adopt a similar detachment.

For a long time, police in this country have been constrained by politics and have not been able to do their duty.

Now there is a nationwide tour of red-clad protesters, and applications for assembly and parades have been more or less determined by the political affiliation of local government heads.

In this environment, it is extremely difficult for police to make impartial and professional decisions. After the attack on the red car last month, NPA Director-General Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) severely punished local police chiefs for poor performance, temporarily bolstering the professionalism of the police force. Meanwhile, he told police to strictly enforce the law regardless of politics and strive to act impartially.

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