On April 16, police officer Yang Chung-li (楊忠蒞), a physical skills instructor with the Taipei Songshan (松山) Precinct, said he had been out for dinner and drinks with friends when he got into a street quarrel with a group of young people, who chased Yang when he ran into the precinct’s Zhonglun (中崙) Police Station, and they ended up smashing a computer. Why did the duty officers not confront the alleged attackers? Media coverage of the incident was a farce, in which all concerned made a show of apologizing to each other.
A physical skills instructor is assigned to each police division and precinct. Any police officer, regardless of rank, can become an instructor by taking an accredited physical skills training course and passing the selection test. The instructors train police officers for eight hours per month on grappling, shooting, arrest techniques and physical fitness.
The training content can be heavy or light, the methods complicated or simple and the length of the sessions is flexible. Police officers need good evaluations from the instructors and their official stamps to continue taking police exams and receiving promotions.
Several years ago, more than 100 sergeants who applied to attend a course at the Central Police University had “failed regular training” stamped on their applications by an instructor, so 37 of them could not register for the exam.
Instructors hold greater power and influence than their humble station suggests. Every day of a police officer’s life is full of uncertainties. They might suddenly need to take on different duties or pursue suspects, which often clashes with their training time. The outcome depends on the attitude of their instructor.
This has long been common knowledge. In countless misconduct cases, those involved have been let off the hook thanks to the social skills and connections of instructors who spoke up for them.
In the incident involving Yang, could the police officers on duty afford to offend him? Would they dare report the incident? The staff at the police station do not deserve to be punished.
Consider former National Police Agency (NPA) director-general Yen Shih-si’s (顏世錫) instruction to “handle complicated matters according to the law.” He had served as confidential secretary to Chou Chung-feng (周中峰), who transferred from the military to serve as head of the Taiwan Provincial Police Administration, since integrated into the NPA.
When Chou took over a financial crime case that several of his predecessors had failed to solve, many people at a case conference reported to him about the standing, rank and departments of the people implicated, but Chou said: “There is no need to talk about interpersonal relations. All I am asking is who broke which laws, and which laws apply to prosecuting this case.” This attitude allowed the case to be closed.
Polite apologies at the police station were not what the general public wanted. What people expect is for the young people dressed in black who allegedly besieged the police station to be taken to court. The public wants to know what the police are going to do about the equipment getting smashed and whether the instructor broke the law by getting into a verbal altercation.
Taiwanese should learn from Chou and Yen’s principle of handling complicated matters according to the law. Even if the two sides have reconciled so that those involved cannot be delivered to the prosecutors’ office in person, the case should still be handed over to the prosecutors’ office in writing.
Teddy Su is a civil servant and author.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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