Out of Order

Bali Police chief Hadiatmoko’s command to his officers at the weekend to shoot-on-sight, if necessary, persons engaged in criminal activity sets a dangerous precedent that upends the presumption of innocence foundation upon which the country’s jurisprudence operates.

It is too late to administer justice or to determine real guilt when the suspect is dead. Confusion in the midst of robberies does not make for a clear mind. And a policeman’s job is not to assign blame but to arrest alleged wrongdoers. The courts decide guilt and fix penalties.

The crime wave engulfing Bali is occurring because of the shocking disparity between rising affluence in Bali as the tourism industry grows and the abject poverty in which many people exist in Bali itself and on neighbouring islands. It has been mounting because there is a security vacuum. Too many people living impoverished lives on neighbouring islands look to the tourism and perceived foreign-resident wealth in Bali and decide, whether driven by personal desperation or pushed by organised crime gangs, to take for themselves.

On many fronts Bali is battling, but as with parallel crises – the deadly rabies epidemic forefront among them – that are seriously damaging Bali’s international standing, effective measures will bring them under control.

That does not involve shooting people at the scene of crimes-in-progress. It does mean actual policing of residential areas and the ability to quickly respond to distress calls. Residents themselves need to take adequate security measures – Bali’s maligned dogs play a valuable role in ensuring intruders are kept out – including adopting a batten-down approach that keeps external doors and gates locked at all times.

The banjar system of neighbourhoods also has a role in ensuring unwanted elements are warded off. They might consider the long-established patrol system in the capital, Jakarta, whereby officers appointed by the neighbourhood walk the streets during night hours, tapping a stick on gates as they pass to assure those inside are comforted and anyone lurking in the shadows with malfeasance on their mind had better move on.

Police chief Hadiatmoko’s no-nonsense approach to criminal activity since he was appointed late last year is commendable, particularly in demanding quick results of probes into fatal Legian nightclub violence (though he has had mixed results – the Red Room bar killing remains unsolved) but a more inclusive policy is required in dealing with island-wide crime – one that is not based on shoot now, ask questions later. A collective effort is required to beat back the bandits.

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