Wal Brown has for more than 10 years led the police volunteers program in Patong, whereby local expats living in Phuket with multi-language skills have provided free assistance to tourists in need. His letter sent directly to The Phuket News is as follows:
My name is Wal Brown and on behalf of the Region 8 International Police Liaison Volunteers would like to respond to the comments made to The Phuket News last week where Col Anotai Jindamanee talked about the Region 8 Volunteers being dismissed from Patong Police Station Program and the Royal Thai Police suspended from Patong Police Station. (See story here.)
Firstly, I would like to say that his unilateral decision to take away tourist support from Patong streets and Patong Police Station is not fair on tourists and that the Region 8 Volunteers have been providing support for the past 10 years.
Second, that the volunteer program and his statement about police suspended from Patong Police Station was not related.
We volunteers do not understand why the program was suspended without anything taking its place. We have dozens of tourists getting in touch with volunteers each day and we can only tell them they must go to the Police Station or ask an officer on the street for help.
For the people reading this and are not sure what the Region 8 Volunteers did I will try to give you some background.
We are currently 35+ volunteers from 13 countries who collectively speak 19 languages, they all have good communication skills and all speak English as a first or second language. A few speak some Thai and can read Thai.
All have a good understanding of Thai culture as well as an understanding of many other cultures throughout the world.
Over the past 10 years we have had over 230 volunteers working in the program, some have been in the program for over 10 years when we worked for Immigration after the tsunami, others work with us for a few years then retire or return to their home.
One group, mainly from Kamala set up a support program in the Kamala area and still work the streets and beach taking care of tourists.
Some of the duties we carry out include making ourselves available most days and evenings to assist tourists and expats when they need help. This could be through a phone call from a tourist, a call from a Police Officer to attend the Police Station or incident or by appointment with the volunteer.
Most issues we sort out are simple that do not require police assistance, many require information that the tourist needs to know prior to attending the police station. We are also rostered to work the streets and beach at least one night per week.
On many occasions a police officer or tourist asks for help for the simple reason that the tourist has no English skills, suffers dementia, lost, unable to find their hotel or resort. Forgetting to take their medication can exasperate the problem.
It is difficult working in the police station, when a conflict arises between a police officer and tourist and we are asked to help then finish up in the middle of a conflict with both parties.
A recent issue that has created conflict between the Colonel at Patong and our group was our concern that a police officer that was removed from Patong Police Station when it was called Kathu Police Station four-plus years ago has returned and stated he would create problems again for the volunteers. At a meeting recently he threatened volunteers that if they say anything bad about him or complained about him he would take deformation action against the volunteer and have them put in jail.
Volunteers have had heated arguments in the past with many police but have always been able to come together at the end of the day and put the issue to rest. We are more than aware that all cultural indifferences need to be resolved and come together as friends to be able to work together the next day.
Thailand tourism is the biggest winner from our program, for 10-years-plus our volunteers have been working the streets talking to tourists every chance we get. We have been involved in two television series spreading the word of how we work together with the Royal Thai Police, explaining the cultural differences between Thailand and other countries.
Our volunteers have worked well over 100,000 hours over the past 10 years. All voluntary, we have even paid for our own uniforms, assisted tens of thousands of tourists, made thousands of phone calls for tourists in distress or in need of help, supported tourists in hospitals, supplied food and water to tourists in jail, assisted tourists in hospital, contacted most consuls and embassies in Thailand as well as embassies in other countries where there was no embassy in Thailand… “All for free”.
We had monthly meetings to exchange issues and concerns around Patong from information given to us from tourists. Some information was acted on quickly by the police other information was passed on to the other government department responsible.
The Volunteer Program was not just a few people walking around the streets in a uniform after a bit of glory. It was a structured program where people had to apply, go through a set training program, work with other volunteers and accept the fact that there is a three-month probation period before being accepted. That training was ongoing throughout their time as a volunteer.
In respect to the Volunteers, I would like to thank you all for the great work you did during your time with us. We have donated our time to make Phuket and Patong safer for tourists.
There have been many people who have sent their thanks for just being there when they are needed.
– The Region 8 Volunteer Group, Patong, Phuket.