Sometimes it’s just not worth reporting a crime in Indonesia.
A few weeks ago, I was robbed on a Jakarta bus. A pickpocket deftly removed my Samsung smartphone from my pocket as the crowded bus pulled up at a stop. I apprehended the thief and then had to stop fellow commuters from beating him up. Next, I had to tell busway guards that I didn’t want him beaten, but instead wanted him taken to police. One man urged me to reconsider, as going to police would be time-consuming and costly.
In Indonesia, there is a saying that goes like, “report a stolen chicken and then lose a goat.” A variation is “report a missing goat and then lose a cow”. It refers to the public perception that some police ask for money to type up a crime report and conduct an investigation.
That was the experience of a woman named Imelda Febrianty Sihite (28), a resident of Patumbak, just outside the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan. In January, she reported to police that Billy Timothy, an official at Bintan Island Tax Office, had embezzled Rp.23 million from her in 2015.
She said Brigadier Viktory Sinulingga, an officer at the Economic Division of the Criminal Investigation Unit at Medan Police, ended up requesting money and goods amounting to almost Rp.50 million to deal with her case, but after five months Billy had not been arrested or brought to trial.
Imelda said Viktory had promised her that Billy would be arrested if she and her family could provide payments and gifts “for officers in the Medan Police”. She said one of the requests was for four bottles of wine, which cost Rp.600,000 each.
Police have in the past admitted that officers sometimes request funds for an investigation, ostensibly because their budgets are insufficient.
Imelda said Billy was declared a suspect on May 7 and accused of violating Articles 378 (fraud) and 372 (embezzlement) of the Criminal Code. She said Viktory told her that funds were required to take Billy to court, so her family paid initial instalments of Rp.20 million. The money was transferred to a Bank Central Asia account in the name of Liza Arditha, who is Viktory’s wife.
Weeks later, when Imelda asked police why Billy had not been brought to court, she was told they had “forgotten” to include the embezzlement accusation when they sent the case file to state prosecutors, so it was dropped.
At this point, Imelda felt she had been cheated twice, first by Billy and then by the police, so she hired a lawyer and told the local media of her experience.
She urged Medan Police chief, Commissioner Mardiaz Dwihananto Kusin, to reprimand his subordinates, especially Viktory. But Mardiaz did not even offer an apology, let alone restitution. “Tell her to prove it,” he said curtly.
Imelda showed the media some receipts for the bank transfers her family had made. When contacted by tribun-medan.com, Mardiaz declined to say whether he would take any follow-up action. “Just send a report to the [local police’s] Professional and Security Division. Let them deal with it,” he said in a WhatsApp message.
A reporter from the Tribun Medan daily newspaper wrote that Mardiaz was angry when asked about the case and “expelled the Tribun”. The report said Mardiaz had contacted Imelda’s family by telephone, but only to berate them for going public.
Last year, the chief of the police’s Criminal Investigation Division, Commissioner General Budi Waseso, admitted that police standards in handling cases vary from station to station, from officer to officer. For example, some police may request funds to investigate a car theft, and then seek further funds to return the vehicle if it has been recovered.
Waseso, who is now chief of the National Narcotics Agency, promised that he would fix the problem to ensure that police follow the rules when handling investigations.
He said he wanted to change the public’s negative opinion of police, ending the perception of “report a chicken lost, lose a goat”. He said steps would include tighter retraining and tougher selection standards for investigators. But some police officers claim they have to pay for promotions – a system that fosters corruption. Tempo magazine reported in 2013 that police were paying from Rp.200 million to Rp.2 billion for promotions, depending on the position being sought.
Opinion polls have rated the police as one of Indonesia’s most corrupt institutions.
Waseso proposed a budget increase for provincial and district level police, so they would no longer claim they lacked funds for investigations.
Provision of higher budgets and salaries will not be enough to stop police corruption as long as it goes unpunished. Imelda said that if Medan Police fail to take action in her case, she will report the matter to the National Police’s Internal Security Division in Jakarta. She said those who profited from the extortion should be investigated.
Who knows whether Imelda will get any satisfaction. Police are presently preoccupied with the imminent appointment of a new National Police chief, most likely to be anti-terror chief Tito Karnavian. Indonesian Corruption Watch has asked him to improve the image of police by eradicating graft from within the ranks.
Petty theft often carries the biggest risks in Indonesia, as thieves caught in the act can be beaten and burned to death by angry mobs. Conversely, white collar criminals are more likely to go unpunished, as potentially angry mobs are too busy watching TV soap operas or smoking cigarettes to march to their doors and deliver a beating.
One slogan of the Indonesian police, displayed on many banners, is “Kami Siap Melayani Anda” – We Are Ready to Serve You. Some Indonesians disagree, saying that police only serve and protect the very wealthy and the political elite, and provide them with escorts to beat heavy traffic.
Back to my experience with a pickpocket. When I finally arrived at a police station, after hours of waiting at a busway stop, no one requested any form of payment. The officers were sympathetic and friendly. But in the end, the thief got off with a stern warning, as I did not push for a formal investigation process or a tough punishment.
Should you become the victim of a crime, play your cards carefully – and consider what you are prepared to spend in pursuit of justice.