Among those not convinced the idea has wings is Manich Suksomchitra, who is working closely with a group of experts under the police reform committee to draft a so-called “zero interference” measure.
Senior officers have expressed similar scepticism.
The experts suggested three measures in a field of police work known as sob suan. Unlike outdoor criminal suppression efforts, this area of police work is more paperwork-driven and inquiry- and law-intensive.
It deals with complaints and investigation findings, with police forwarding them to prosecutors and a decision by the courts.
To reform sob suan work, officers must be equipped with expertise, ensured of a good career path to prevent a brain drain to other sections of the force and, above all, granted more freedom at work with no interference from their superiors, they say.
In a recent interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Manich, chairman of the public relations panel under the police reform committee, admitted it would be “difficult to make sob suan investigations completely free from high-ranking officers”.
His committee has suggested a nine-member panel be set up to monitor irregularities, Mr Manich said.
The group, made up of three special branch police officers and six non-police experts, will handle people’s complaints over unfair treatment.
Its role would be to head off any attempts to intervene in investigations.
Such freedom to operate unconstrained is crucial, according to Pol Lt Col Kritsanaphong Phutrakun, a lecturer of police science at the Royal Police Cadet Academy.
Otherwise, criminal cases can go off-track if local police station chiefs abuse their power in preparing investigation reports for prosecutors, he added.
Police station chiefs are authorised to look through investigation results, giving them the power to overrule them.
Proponents of reform are aware that different opinions between police investigators and their bosses can occur, so they suggested a police commander, who has no direct role in a criminal case, be permitted to arbitrate disputes.
However even this does not guarantee the commander will not interfere with the work, said Pol Col Suwat Saengnum, chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s sob suan unit.
Col Suwat said officers only come up with initial investigation results.
Whether they proceed to court still largely depends on prosecutors, he added.
Bearing in mind such concerns, many senior police officers are reluctant to say the suggested reform of the sob suan field will bear fruit and eliminate unwanted interference.
Pol Col Uthen Uniphin, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau's Training Centre, said giving young or inexperienced investigators too much freedom may not be always a good idea because “working freely and working at will are divided by a thin line”.
He expressed concern such officers may not exercise enough caution when conducting investigations.
Despite all this, reform in this area is much needed, Mr Manich said.
The Royal Thai Police require capable officers to fill more than 1,600 vacant jobs in this field, he said, citing the figure from last August.
Without a bright career path it would be hard to attract new recruits.
The proposal also suggests sob suan merge with sueb suan, or outdoor criminal suppression, he added.
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