KUALA LUMPUR, TITIWANGSA: Deputy Superintendent Mohammed Shafiq bin Abdul Malik* dressed in plain clothes and slacks, takes out a box of cigarettes and offers it to me. “So what is this all about Jowee?” he asked.
I said, “I want to tell your story. A different side of what we- the public, are used to hearing. There’s so much of the bad, I want to talk about the good…”
The next words that came out of DSP Shafiq’s lips surprised me, “ I don’t need what’s good…” He said. “ Cakaplah apa yang benar…” (Just tell what’s true)
Growing up, we were used to reading in ‘pemahaman’ and ‘karangan’ (Malay essay and comprehension) exercises, stories of how police men upheld the moral status quo, serving and protecting, defending the innocent with bravery.
In our younger years, we filled in the blanks with all the attributes we thought a police officer had. “Bertanggungjawab”, “Berani” (responsible, brave) all words used to describe our heroes. We had wanted to be them. ‘Cita-cita saya…” (My Ambitions…)
Then we grew up, and what we end up reading about them in headlines everywhere told a different story. Police brutality, abuse of power, police bullying refugees and asylum seekers, sexual assault of victims or suspects under custody etc.
In our own lives police officers stop us on the streets, tell us that we’ve sped way over the speed limit, or any form of wrong, then give us the ever familiar “ So you nak macam mana?” (What now?)
A ten ringgit note, or sometimes even less, and we were on our way. Settled, ticketless and on to commit the next minor offense. Whether this warrants the chicken or egg argument on who’s to blame, the ‘rakyat’ (nation) who bribes, or the officer who accepts it, the authorities get a bad reputation around here, and its no wonder there’s a culture of mistrust among the people towards the very people meant to serve and protect us.
“ Its true that corruption happens, but what we see is only about 4% of what’s really going on. And because it’s reported in the news, the numbers often seem so big.” He said. “So why Encik?” I asked. “What’s really going on?”
This time, DSP Shafiq looks me in the eye. “ Everything is up to the individual. Everything is an individual choice.” He said. “ If you give someone power- a baton, shield and guns, and leave it up to them to use it within their own morals. Of course things like that happen.”
“ Any normal person when angry and provoked, because its right in your hands, you think you won’t use it?”
“But weren’t they given adequate training to act properly? And how long are they trained for?” I asked. “ We train for about a year…but again, no matter how much training you give, everything is an individual choice.”
When he talked about the difference how he was trained, compared to this new generation of policemen, he said, “…They’ve become much too soft.” Telling how he once slapped his subordinate (hard but albeit playfully) for crying for missing his girlfriend. He rolled into fits of laughter after telling that story.
In last year’s Bersih rally, DSP Shafiq was one of the police officers that went undercover. He witnessed the police brutality and violent crackdown on protestors, and while he would not express his views in this interview, there was the sense that he wanted to say more than was allowed. He kept pointing to the recording device and went “Bahaya lah…” (Dangerous)
In fact, recounting another visit at the Bukit Aman headquarters, another Deputy Superintendent (unnamed to protect his privacy) too held personal opinions about the current government. He said, “ For us [policemen], our job is to enforce the law. Whether or not we agree with it. It’s the politicians that make the law.”
The first time I went into the Bukit Aman headquarters, I came armed with my preconceived notions. I expected to be frisked, threatened or spoken rudely to. But everything I thought about them was shattered that day. It was as if I was walking into a family than anything else. The men and women I met that day were a different sort. One really got a sense that they were there to serve and protect. They were brothers and sisters in arms- Malay, Indian and Chinese.
I told the gentlemen what I observed, and they nodded in agreement, “When you work with people like that, and having to do the things we do. You form a bond that is inseparable, special.”
For a man that has spent more than twenty-five years working on the force, DSP Shafiq had seen much, telling of how it was fate that first brought him down this path. He’s the chief of the narcotics division, and leads a team running operations, taking down drug lords, drug rings and cartels.
DSP Shafiq tells the story of how during one particular operation, the team found entire cupboard stacked high to the brim with ringgits, amounting up to millions. Then he tells of his undercover adventures, wearing wires, and tapping into high profile offices to unearth corruption.
The life of a police officer of his position, often involves going away for extended periods of time. When he leaves, its often the heartache of leaving his wife and five children behind, often not knowing for sure when he would return. “It’s a long, lonely life.” He said. “Sitting in your car, alone. On a stake out alone. It gets really lonely.” DSP Shafiq’s hands trembled.
Then, somewhere, between questions, DSP Shafiq lets out a sigh. “ Saya dah berkorban untuk rakyat tapi rakyat pun anggap saya sebagai musuh.” (I’ve sacrificed to serve my country, but my country has made an enemy out of me.) He takes another draw from his cigarette.