The shooting, by Cpl Pornthep Channarong, shocked the island and all who visit here regularly, but should not have come as a shock that it involved a drunk off-duty police officer. Police in Phuket being involved in off-duty shootings is not new.
Top-ranking police have taken the front seat in the public relations campaign to appear in public to be doing the right thing. One has to wonder what for? If they are looking to be perceived as upholding decency or true sympathy, they have done nothing extraordinary to support the family other than what police are supposed to do for any victims of such a crime. Perhaps Mr Aroon’s wife and mother are expected to be grateful that such important people had taken time out of their busy schedules to offer their sympathies.
Top-flight police are also playing the “bad apple” card, as if such incidents are “force majeure”, as one officer called it. So far police have taken no serious steps to prevent police officers from carrying guns in public while off duty. All that has been delivered is yet another message to the troops to behave – or at least not get caught misbehaving – while in public “or face the consequences”.
Such statements trigger the standard kowtowing in being received, but even among Thais ring hollow. When do any officials face the “full force of the law”, as so often promised? Only in December did a court not only half a former Thalang police officer’s sentence because he confessed, but halved it second time during a failed appeal of all things for the same original confession. Add that one up.
So far there has not been one mention that Cpl Pornthep – and yes, we will maintain calling him Cpl Pornthep in recognition of his rank at the time of his crime – will face double the penalty for his crimes due to the fact that he was government officer at the time of his crime.
Worse, Phuket’s illustrious police had Cpl Pornthep stripped of his rank and dismissed from the Royal Thai Police as quickly as possible, as if he will be presented in court as an ordinary citizen at the time of his arrest.
Patong Police Chief Col Sujin Nilabordi told the Thai media on Thursday that the shooting this week was “the first of its kind in Patong”. We are not sure how he came to that understanding, but it most certainly is not. To be fair, most police shootings in recent years have happened outside of Patong, but Patong has had its share too.
Among the best remembered police shootings happened in Phuket Town, when two Phuket City Police officers killed each other in a gunfight outside a restaurant near Nimit Circle (the “Seahorse Circle”) in 2016, a year that saw several people killed by off-duty police carrying guns not just in public, but in pubs and bars.
The Royal Thai Police silencing any investigation in that incident, however, paled in comparison to lack of explanation to a waitress being shot in the head outside the Saraphan Pleng bar near Chalong Circle by a policeman’s gun just before 4am – hours after the pub was supposed to have closed by law.
Karaoke hostess Nootsika Glaseuk, 36, from Ranong, had just walked out of the pub, which is literally around the corner from Chalong Police Station, when she was hit in the head by a bullet fired from a passing pickup truck.
Provincial anti-narcotics officer Sen Sgt Maj Sompong Santathiwong turned himself in the next day. He affirmed the gun that fired the deadly shot was his, but denied that he murdered Ms Nootsika.
As for Patong, in an fatal shooting in 2013, Sgt Phongsagorn Treeyut of the Kathu Police (now called the Patong Police) said he was playing with his gun when it went off, shooting dead 27-year-old waitress Sawitree Kaewnin while sitting at a table outside the Fong Beer pub on Phang Muang Sai Kor Rd, now called Phra Mettha Rd.
As with all the previous police shootings, police in that case confirmed that Sgt Phongsagorn had been “investigated”, but any conclusion failed to reach the public.
That case followed another policeman a year earlier shooting dead a man in the middle of the street, in Phun Phol Soi 11, in what was claimed to be self-defence. Again, news of any legal action in that case failed to reach public ears.
The lack of sincerity in making any genuine attempt over the years to prevent further “accidental” killing and maiming of innocent people by off-duty police officers screams loudly of the contempt the ranks of the Royal Thai Police hold for the average citizen.
With their uniforms, firearms and ranks, the Royal Thai Police by definition is a quasi‐military organisation. Its officers are issued orders, and are required to obey them.
An order banning all police officers from carrying firearms when not on active duty is long overdue. It is the least the Royal Thai Police can do for the victims of their wayward officers, if police in Thailand want to salvage any credibility in caring for the people the police are supposed to protect.