Frequent incidents of violence in society, such as a near-fatal assault with baseball bats in Taichung and a deadly shooting in New Taipei City, are making people anxious. Media commentators blame police chiefs and mayors, calling for their resignations.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said she would review the situation and take firmer action, such as the Cabinet calling a conference on law and order, and proposing countermeasures, while former New Power Party legislator Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) has urged the government to declare “war” on gangsters, and not just as a slogan.
When thugs get into brawls and beat up or even kill people in front of onlookers, their offenses are often recorded on cellphones and posted online. When an incident is reported to the police, they dispatch rapid-response patrols, which cruise the streets around the clock to enforce the law.
Unless offenders are caught at the scene, police often arrive to find no one and nothing. They can only handle the case based on clues. If they miss something because of changed circumstances, they are criticized.
When hoodlums breach the peace and create disorder, police rush to the scene to catch the culprits, but does that solve the problem?
The reality is that courts often release the culprits or give them lenient penalties, after which they return to the streets and start fighting again. The police might then rearrest the culprits. This cycle is a massive drain on police personnel. If the root cause is not eradicated, social order cannot be ensured.
Lawless troublemakers do not fear the police, because they know that the law does not give the police much authority.
Except in the case of offenders being caught red-handed, police cannot exercise their powers of compulsory enforcement, such as stop and search. Even when suspects are arrested, the law requires them to be quickly brought before a court.
The role of police in law enforcement is to assist in criminal investigations. Prosecutors sit in their offices and issue directives, but police have no power to fight on the streets.
Where are the prosecutors when beat cops encounter legal disputes in the middle of the night?
Taiwan claims to be a democracy in which the rule of law prevails and people have no economic worries, so why do criminals roam the streets and threaten people with clubs and knives, and even kill them for little or no reason?
Where is Taiwan’s social safety net?
Has every social system broken down? Has the family safety net been broken? Are the education, social welfare, legal systems failing? Have correctional facilities stopped working?
Are police officers the only ones who clean up the streets and are held responsible for the outcome?
Many major crimes of the past few years have shocked society — from the murder of a girl known as “Little Lightbulb” to the baseball bat assault — but they were mostly committed by people with mental conditions or repeat offenders.
This is where the root cause clearly lies, but there have been few indicators that government agencies are resolutely trying to improve the situation. All they ever do is make officious statements after the news frenzy has cooled.
The right approach can only be to face up to the problem and prescribe effective remedies.
Mark Chih is a senior police officer.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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