What's wrong with Philippine cops?

Formality and procedure

In addition, no policeman should have the authority to release an arrested person on his own. If a mistake has been made, or if release is warranted for some other official reason, a senior officer must always authorize it, and the situation must always be fully documented.  Formality and procedure exist as a form of check-and-balance, designed to prevent activities such as unlawful detention and extortion by lone-wolf policemen. But in the informal world of Philippine police work, individual cops are allowed to operate so independently that supervisors rarely bother to question their activities.

The bottom line here is pretty simple. The only policemen who have the freedom to engage in criminal or abusive activity are those who are not being properly supervised. If station commanders and shift supervisors would require proper documentation, and monitor their people’s activities, most criminal behavior by policemen would simply not be possible.  Supervisors have the power to completely eliminate this problem.

This is not a situation where rogue policemen are out of control. It's a situation where unsupervised policemen are simply not being controlled. Contrary to the common view of policemen as completely independent operators, a cop's day should be filled with assignments and tasks. Even on routine patrol, a policeman has duties that should keep him busy.

A properly supervised patrolman doesn't have time to sit and read the newspaper, let alone time to engage in kidnapping or extortion.  If cops are kept busy doing the job they are paid to do, and if supervisors stay on top of their people, crimes committed by lawmen will drop dramatically, almost overnight.  This requires active supervision by the leadership at all levels.  

Police 'culture'

The relationship between a supervisor and his subordinates is not supposed to be a buddy-buddy relationship, and supervision involves more than just being present in the office. A professional supervisor corrects mistakes and violations, and reprimands improper behavior. As a matter of fact, every time an on-duty policeman is found to have been involved in kidnapping or any other criminal activity, his supervisor must automatically share in some degree of responsibility – simply because the crime could not have been committed if the supervisor had been supervising properly. 

This police "culture" will not be changed by values formation seminars, bible studies, or appeals for honest behavior. It will change only when the entire police leadership corps declares, with one voice and without a wink or a nod, that it is unacceptable. 

I write this article as a former police supervisor myself. And I can honestly say that, during my entire career, there was never more than a few minutes on any given day that I did not know where my people were and what they were doing. As their supervisor, that was my job. 

An important note to keep in mind though – the main reason policemen should be kept busy is not to control cop-crime.  That's actually just a side benefit.  The real reason is because there is so much work that needs to be done, and policemen are being paid by the taxpayers to do it.  A full day of active, productive work is not too much to ask in exchange.

Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, and has lived over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, law enforcement, and government. Follow him on Twitter at @M_i_c_h_a_e_l