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Aid for Indonesia's buffeted police

Efforts to regain public trust and cut vigilantism include foreign training and watchdog groups.

(Page 2 of 2)

In this diverse nation of 210 million, 200,000 officers are expected to fight crime, communal violence, and militant secessionists alike. But on low salaries - many here blame the government's failure to invest in the basics of building a civil society - police are reluctant to put their lives at risk. Most are paid the equivalent of about a dollar a day (about average for low-ranking civil servants), and the basic allocation for a police investigation is 50,000 rupiah, or about $4.75, according to Policewatch.

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"The police are demoralized, and so they hesitate to act," says Salim Said, an Indonesian political scientist specializing in military and security affairs.

Several movements targeted at improving police performance, though still in their infancy, appear to be presenting some alternatives. One US program begun last year includes revamping the trainee curriculum, learning how to involve community leaders in crime-fighting, and tactical training in coping with crowd-control problems that have historically led to bloodshed. Police opened fire on demonstrators during anti-Suharto protests in 1998, starting a spiral of violence that many here fear could be repeated as pro- and anti-Wahid demonstrations grow.

"We use our own tapes, from the L.A. riots to Seattle, and by using our own examples of failures of police control in America, we can say: 'Hey folks, we learned, and we know you've seen this in Jakarta," says Steven Hargrove, senior police adviser in Jakarta for the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), part of the US Department of Justice. The program is one that the US has been bringing to many emerging democracies, but this is the first time such assistance from Washington has arrived in Southeast Asia. Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom have also been providing similar assistance to Indonesia.

In the proposed next phase of the program - not yet funded by the Bush administration - Mr. Hargrove's team wants to concentrate on community policing. Regional police are due to gain more powers under a decentralization program, but they are often the most lacking in training and equipment.

Indonesians say they are not yet sure whether such imported concepts will translate well. But they are exploring ways to encourage more community input. Policewatch is drafting legislation that would create an oversight board of civilians for each police department in the country. That would give the public the right to review the performance of their officers, virtually unheard of in today's Indonesia.

That, and much else, is changing, says reformers in the ranks. But not all police will adjust easily.

"The Americans are trying to show us, in a civilian-policing context, what should be done, like using minimum force," says Police Col. Ermiady Yadi. "We used to be very militaristic.... But many in the police don't realize that we're doing that," Mr. Yadi says. "The old culture is still there, and it is very difficult to involve a lot of officers in the changes. Someday, we're going to have to be held responsible for what we do."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor