Crooks in Uniform

Crooks in Uniform

Crooks in UniformHeading home after a late night out, I was pulled up in West Jakarta by two apparent policemen. At such spot-checks, police usually want to inspect any bags and see some identification. Earlier that day I had collected my passport, along with a renewed work visa and police registration card, all of which I showed to one of the policemen. He took the documents and instructed me to follow him down an embankment. Then he requested Rp.1 million for the return of my identification. I declined, so he started to haggle. When I refused to give him even Rp.100,000, he cursed me for being stingy and threw my documents on the ground. After I picked them up, he became friendly and offered me some ecstasy, which he tried to put in my shirt pocket. I backed away, not keen on getting arrested for possession. Clearly the man and his sidekick on the road were imposters, as real police would never behave like that, would they?

It has often been reported that unofficial payments (or good connections) are required to gain admission to the National Police Academy, yet police salaries are low, so officers must find ways to augment their meagre income. I felt sorry for the Bali traffic cop suspended last month after being secretly filmed accepting a small bribe from a Dutchman he had stopped for not wearing a motorbike helmet. The officer was so polite and friendly, even buying a few beers to share with the foreigner.

If you get stopped in a late-night spot-check in Jakarta and cannot produce a valid visa or police registration card, then officers may threaten to take you to a station for processing – unless you pay an unofficial fine of anywhere from Rp.100,000 to $100.  You should remain polite and composed, remembering that as a guest in Indonesia, you need to play by their rules. Perhaps your ID is at an Immigration office pending a visa extension, so explain this and carry a photocopy of your passport’s ID page. Threats to take you to the station are usually a bluff, as officers won’t want to waste time when other motorists are passing. If being polite and amiable aren’t enough, then consider “calling a friend at your embassy” to ask for advice.

Fake police uniforms and badges can be bought near Senen market in Central Jakarta. Phony cops may attempt a variety of scams, exploiting the public’s trust or fear of police. One driver was pulled over and asked to show his ID. The “policeman” dropped a small bag of pills through the car’s window, then removed it, declared it to be drugs and requested a bribe. Another driver was stopped by several bogus “narcotics police” who kidnapped him, stole his car and held him for ransom.

Last year a crook posed as a policeman interested in buying second-hand cars. Accompanied by the owner, he would take each vehicle for a test drive to Soekarno-Hatta Airport and then suggest stopping at Terminal 2 for lunch to seal the deal. He would excuse himself to go to the mosque, and then drive away in the car.

A woman who bought a police uniform at Senen claimed she could get people enrolled at the Police Academy in return for payments of up to Rp.160 million. She was arrested after failing to get a policeman’s son into the academy. A man was nabbed last November for a similar scam, in which he posed as a police commissioner assigned to select and train recruits for the academy. In December, a woman was caught impersonating an Indonesian Military recruiter. She had managed to collect a total of Rp.471 million from four people wanting to join the military. Others have profited by masquerading as police so they can act as brokers in legal cases.

It is also profitable to impersonate members of the president’s entourage. One woman got hold of a police uniform, claimed to be the private secretary of First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and collected bribes from gullible local officials seeking promotion. Prior to the 2009 election, scammers pretended to be the president and his spokesman in telephone conversations and managed to get a $2 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei.

Over recent years, more than 100 people have been arrested for posing as members of the Corruption Eradication Commission to extract bribes from politicians and businesspersons.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.


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