TL:DR #9 Police Powers, Thailand and Global Policing Policies

TL:DR Newsletter #9 Cover

Thailand and the world has witnessed a high-profile tragic case under which a senior police officer has been charged with alleged murder of a suspect in a drug investigation [1]. It must be noted that aside from the wrongful loss of the victim through suffocation, family members and friends will also have suffered pain from the circumstance and also the media and social scrutiny that ensued. This article is therefore written with acknowledgment of the sensitivity of the issue and will avoid the sensationalism and indelicate manner which is used by many media forums and the commenters in the forums under the articles to report and comment on crime, often seemingly without regard for balance or dignity.

It is further important to recognize when analysing a crime and potential meaning in a social and legal development context, that crime is unfortunately prevalent across the globe in varying degrees and although statistics and data measurements never compensate the victims of crime, such analysis is exceptionally valuable in understanding, in a wide context, the patterns of global crime and how this correlates to governance [2]. Thailand as a country and its non-criminal majority population therefore cannot be ‘singled out’ because of one high profile crime case. Notwithstanding, the governance of Thailand must be subject to scrutiny from as many quarters as possible given the nature of connected allegations to the case: police corrupt activities, unusual wealth and alleged conspiracy to extort suspects and cover up torture and the death of the victim [3]

Most lawyers at some point have at least studied and experienced some exposure to the practice of criminal law even if they have gone on to become corporate lawyers, left law altogether or never touched criminal law in any aspect again. Such lawyers will on the most part, likely retain an interest in how criminal law policies and policing is managed in relation to where they live, where their families live and for a general concern as to safety in the community, as a bare minimum. Other lawyers have immersed themselves in criminal law and criminology, and have committed most of their lives dedicated to trying to make a marginal difference in the manner in which matters of crime are dealt with, either through victim support [4], state prosecutions [5], perpetrator defense or death row appeals and postponements [6].

Aside from the special interest of lawyers, we as global and local community citizens are governed, without any choice at the time of our birth, on average with a miniscule influence as we reach adulthood unless we are involved in criminal policy making or implementation, by a set of laws which through states and multi-jurisdictional organizations, exert jurisdiction over us to determine whether our actions and those of others are criminal.

This, together with the fear that a ‘crime may happen to us’ or that ‘we are capable of committing a crime’ if our minds are affected by an event, a wish to be better than others at their expense beyond limit, or a series of damaging circumstances – as set out in exceptionally well written and the continually acclaimed “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1866 [7], is why when the click rates in the modern world, and the historical global attention to matters of crime have always been high. If a newspaper or social media outlet wants to gain readers, online or in print, a crime with all its gory and seductive detail is almost a guarantee of success for a certain period of time, which is stated by some studies to be a reflection of fear [8].

Just as the politics, economics, religions, cultures, and societies of the world are unique in many regards, resulting in the “varieties of capitalism”[9], socialism [10], embedded differences in the definition of what constitutes ‘public policy’ and ‘morals’ [11], the approach and progress in policing in any given distinct nation or society, can vary greatly, and cannot simply be replaced or radically reformed without a clear understanding of the effects on the society dependent upon it on a daily basis.

A well-documented case study of the endemic corruption, racism, politicization, and involvement in criminal activities itself is that of the British Police Force [12], during which time there were also many heroes and heroines responsible for policing policy, enforcement, and working tirelessly for reform and improvement in the face of great adversity and resistance. In modern British society, the police force is still subject to issues and scandals, and as societies do not ‘stop’, neither will nor should the development and oversight of the power that polices.

In Thailand, there is plenty of commentary in the media and also academically on the state of the police force, with the complaints handling process and ‘the police cannot investigate themselves’ as one pillar of such criticism [13]. There can surely be no one sweeping change that will simply resolve all of the issues relating to policing in Thailand or any other country which has policing issues.

However, from a legal reform and global policing policy perspective, there are some fundamental criteria that societies do have in common [14]:

1. History has played a large determining factor in the shape of a particular police force and policing policy which will differ from place to place. It has been historically used and abused through acts of invasion and colonialism, through the placement of policing upon unwilling or unprepared societies and cultures, causing friction and dispute, or worse, wars and death.

2. The dimensions of police work are not linear and involve the interaction between civilians and the state. Police provide a ‘service’ through consensus policing and provide ‘order maintenance’ when there is conflict. They further use their powers when there is consensus, to obtain ‘voluntary compliance’, and they use force for law enforcement when there is conflict.

3. Policing is intertwined in social justice issued, and can reflect or influence fairness; equality and justice. Discrimination in policing has several theories for its existence which range from ‘individual’; ‘institutional’, ‘cultural’ and ‘structural’. The issues that policing must naturally be concerned with include issues triggered by societal unrest and disorder, and this is reflected in history: slavery; racial segregation; post-colonialism; religious conflict and ethnic minority communities formed by migration.

4. A new ‘order’ of transnational pluralistic policing has developed and emerged and must continue to evolve to reflect transnationalism and transnational crimes. Therefore, to establish sufficient order to combat such activities, different states must liaise with each other to find common ground on crime and policing policies, and adopt a highly co-operative stance to avoid exploitation by criminals.

5. When police use their powers, there must be a very strong system of monitoring, checks and balances and accountability, and this system must be visible to society as a well-ordered functioning system to avoid a widening trust divide and an undermining of the social conscious consent to being policed so far as ‘consensus policing’ is concerned.

6. When states are faced with what appears to be a series of waves of economic crises, the resultant decay of neo-liberalism, and the advent of a technological revolution, the response appears to be militarization of the police, granting stronger powers and punishments to deal with technology-based crime and ‘scaling’ up policing at all levels.

The danger with over-policing, or policing on the foundation of corruption, is that society will, like a body vomiting as a response to rejecting a bacteria, become restless and reject defective or overzealous policing at as many levels as possible. This can result in the erosion of ‘consensus’ policing to the extent that almost all policing then becomes ‘military-esque’ requiring strong non-consensual enforcement in most situations.

Any reform of a police force or policing policies, must include a deep understanding of these factors, the underpinning theories, and how in practice theory may be defeated by societal realities. Furthermore, lessons from comparative studies of failures and successes in other countries, even with different varieties of social, political and cultural foundations, can be applied to reform of policing policies in a unique context which can also embrace transnational policing with the necessary exceptions and reservations which fit a particular nation.

[1] Wassayos Ngamkham and Online Reporters Six cops in alleged torture death give statements as witnesses (Bangkok Post Online 31 August 2021 see: ) last accessed 6 September 2021

[2] Jan Van Gijk, Paul Nieuwbeerta & Jacqueline Joudo Larsen Global Crime Patterns: An Analysis of Survey Data from 166 Countries Around the World, 2006-2019 (Journal of Quantative Criminology 2021 available on Open Access at Springer Link: )

[3] Online Reporters Autopsy shows drug suspect died of suffocation (Bangkok Post Online 30 August 2021 see: ) last accessed 6 September 2021

[4] United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Justice in Matters Involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime – Model Law and Related Commentary (April 2009 see:…pdf )

[5] Elise Baranouski, Joan Ruttenberg & Carolyn Stafford Stein The Fast Track to a U.S. Attorney’s Office (Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising, Harvard Law School, 2014 see: )

[6] The Death Penalty Project see:

[7] Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment (Independent, 29 October 2019)

[8] Rafael Prieto Curiel, Stefano Cresci, Cristina Ioana Muntean & Steven Richard Bishop Crime and its fear in social media (Palgrave Communications 6 Article 57, 2020,, Humanities and Social Sciences Communications see: )

[9] P A Hall & D Soskice Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage (Oxford University Press 2001)

[10] Henry Somerville The Variations of Socialism (An Irish Quarterly Review Vol.2 No.8 December 1913 pp.369-383

[11] Russ Shafer-Landau The Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford University Press, 4th Edition, 2018)

[12] Benjamin Bowling, Robert Reiner & James Sheptycki The Politics of the Police (Oxford 5th Edition 2019) pp.65-100

[13] Dhiyathad Prateeppornnarong & Richard Young A critique of the internal complaints system of the Thai police (Policing and Society 29:1, Taylor and Francis Online DOI: 10.1080/10439463.2017.1356298 pp.18-35

[14] ibid. 12 which provided the inspiration for the synthesis expressed below.

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