Good cops and bad cops [Archives:2005/867/Viewpoint]

August 11 2005

Recently there was an accident at the Yemen Times printing press where the power generator went off in flames because of a technical problem. Before we knew it, the security police was there, even before we call for them. Apparently, as the police officer explained, he saw smoke rising from a distance so he felt it is his duty to come forward and investigate the situation. “We are trained to react in emergencies for search and rescue. It's our duty to ensure safety and security,” that is what he said. His name was Fateh al-Din and I really was impressed and commented on this to media and press reporters who covered the story. One of my cliche statements then was that I felt the country is safe, “with such men, I feel the country is fine,” I said then.

Two days ago, we had another small incident that involved police. Someone assaulted one of our staff members at the Yemen Times premises and we had to call the police. Thank god, it is in our policy not to allow any kind of weapons in the building – including Jambia the traditional Yemeni daggers. With nerves wrecking and a weapon at hand who knows what could happen. When called the police to come and sort the issue, they never came. Knowing that there is a security patrol nears the office we called for them and they picked the assaulter to the police station. Our staff member went along to report on the incident and filed a complaint. Astonishingly, one of the policemen at the station did not want to look into the issue as per procedures and was ordering our claimant to withdraw his claim else, both would be put in jail. “Sign this paper to cancel your claim else I will put you both in prison” he argued twice to Yemen Times staff member who was out of his wits by the police's reaction. “I was the one who called the police, I was the one who has been assaulted and it was ME who issued this complaint and now he wants to put ME in prison unless I drop my right?!” he complained to me and other YT staff members.

Luckily, the assault issue was solved later outside the police station, but the memory of the patronizing police officer does not seem to want to go away.

This is the other side of the police and security people in Yemen, and in many developing countries. The police itself in many times is a source of fear and trouble for citizens to the extent that they would rather be victimized by assaulters and criminals than go to the police. “Going to the police would cost me more than what I lost in the robbery! I'd rather not report the incident.” This is the attitude of many normal people in Yemen. Not only does this shake the image of the force that supposedly should be protecting the society, it also leads to not having any information or accurate data because many of the crimes are not reported.

I said earlier that I thought that the country is fine, because I came across a lonely example of a descent policeman, but when the majority is the ugly examples then we are defiantly not fine. If I cannot trust the police, then what is the point in having a law to start with? What is the point in having a constitution or even a republic, don't you think?