Thailand: Royal Thai police face daunting job to reform national agency

“Police suicides and police apathy are two of many issues highlighting a dire need for constructive police reforms within the Royal Thai Police for some time.” Bangkok Post October 14, 2019 The Thai National Police (TNP) are mired in politics and age-old tradition which has contributed to significant tension within the TNP ranks.

As recently as early February, 2020, an embittered Thai police officer went on a rampage in the northern province in Thailand. Over 20 persons were killed in an extremely rare display of public rage and terminal violence. The perpetrator ultimately took his own like as members of the Thai Special Forces moved in.

Dr Ronald Allanach and Dr Michael Sefton are pictured with the Northern Police District Administrator during a meeting 2 weeks before the rampage. There was no sense among the officers we met that tension and despair underlie this outwardly professional police agency. The officers we interviewed were all happy and content with their assignments. There was no sign of the frustration and vulnerability identified in the Bangkok Post report.

Dr. Ronald Allanach (left) pictured with Northern Sector Thai National police administrator and Dr. Michael Sefton in January 2020

Police reform is a problem across America and the world. In Thailand, a centralized police force is overseen by the country’s prime minister who is responsible for naming the chief general who leads the Thai National Police. This is no easy task. Some believe there are complex issues that contribute to the distress felt by police across Thailand. The investigation into the February 2020 rampage is in its early stages but links to conflict between the officer and a higher ranking administrator are being floated. A psychological autopsy would provide added facts to the “red flags” that may have lead up to the terminal event and offer substantive interventions that can reduce the growing problem in The TNP.

These include officers who are sent to distant police assignments leaving them without the normal emotional and agency supports they need. The pay is low and the trust felt by the TNP from its citizenry is inauspicious at best.

In a 2018 published paper in the Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences by Police Major Thitiwat Yachaima, similar factors affect the levels of stress in Thai police officers as that impacting cops in the United States. This includes work environment, relationship to superior officers and peers, specific work and hours of weekly service, support from family

“Today police morale and emotional health have hit rock bottom, he said, because of a number of factors, including botched policy-making when it comes to their career path that doesn’t take into consideration the officer’s needs and desires.”

Bangkok Post December, 2019

The Bangkok Post published an article about police suicide in Thailand. According to the Bangkok Post, “four police officers – based in Chumphon, Chiang Mai, Sing Buri and Kamphaeng Phet – were overwhelmed by stress and took their own lives after being transferred from their home provinces to investigation units in the other provinces.” 

More recently, police officers in Thailand have been able to request transfer to their home provinces in an effort to reduce the stress experienced by newly deployed officers and other specialists. There are over five thousand unfilled positions in the investigation units for the Thai National Police. As a result of this shortage, it requires that officers be shared among divisions across the country adding to the stress officers’ experience.

Overall, Thai police are defensive about the underpinnings of officer suicide citing “physical health and personal problems” as a primary source of the problem – not simply job assignment. National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda has recently come under attack from subordinates for making what appeared to be abrupt, politically motivated transfers for those who challenged his authority as he nears retirement age.

What factors need to be examined when looking to reduce police stress in general and to understand factors that are shared among law enforcement officers across societies? A study conducted in 2011 in the Journal of Nursing Science suggested that officers who have self-efficacy and respect from the communities they serve as among the factors that yield the greatest health-related behaviors and personal hardiness.

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