From P Sundramoorthy
Examining the use of physical, mental and emotional force by the police is theoretically important as it affects the public’s attitude and trust towards it and the government.
Such force also violates all aspects of human rights and protection provided by the constitutions of democratic nations.
Due to its importance, much attention has been devoted to understanding how and why the use of force varies within police departments worldwide.
This brief commentary will address some of the pertinent issues related to police use of force while a suspect is under detention, prior to any criminal charges.
Every so often in this nation, allegations of police brutality are made in court or via police reports by suspects, their lawyers or family members.
In serious cases, the magistrate or judge will insist on an investigation and medical checkup at a government hospital, especially if there are obvious signs of physical injury.
Having said that, not all forms of physical police brutality show signs of injury and are almost impossible to prove unless there is a whistleblower among the investigators, or a reliable witness.
Mental and emotional torture during remand is even more challenging, difficult and complex to investigate by both the police and medical experts.
In this scenario, it is the word of a suspect versus the men and women in blue. The outcome is most often not in favour of the suspect, for obvious reasons.
Research has shown that there are different reasons for the use of unwarranted physical, mental and emotional force by the police.
The following discourse has been advanced — the use of illegal force in terms of individual characteristics of police officers; those explaining it in terms of the characteristics of the situation in which police meet citizens; those explaining it in terms of the organisational work culture; and those explaining it in terms of leadership role and integrity.
However, studies have not determined to what extent the factors mentioned earlier have a genuine influence, and how important the various factors are in determining police brutality.
But they do suggest that many factors commonly thought to affect the use of force have little effect.
Realistically, it is important to note that two additional factors have significantly and consistently contributed to the escalation or de-escalation of police brutality.
They are the behaviour of the offender and the stress on investigators to solve a case.
Irrespective of the above, no professional and progressive police department in a democratic society will resort to the use of force to extract or compel information from a suspect.
Police brutality obviously violates all aspects of human rights. It is most cruel and unjust.
If the police are guilty of such gross injustice, then their unethical behaviour is no different to that of street vigilantes.
The advancement of knowledge in investigation techniques and forensic technology must take over illegal and cruel forms of compelling information from suspects while in remand.
Police must not lose their moral standing in society by using unorthodox standards of investigation which was acceptable before.
Much needs to be reviewed with urgency if public trust and confidence is to be maintained before it is completely eroded.
The government and the police are here to serve and protect the people — and this is of utmost priority.
P Sundramoorthy is a criminologist at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.