Do Indonesians trust their police?

Proper policing requires sufficient resources and public support. Is Indonesia up to the challenge?

Do Indonesians trust their police? AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo

After 12 months of social turmoil that was actually years in the making, Indonesia’s April 2019 presidential and legislative elections – held simultaneously for the first time – mercifully concluded. One of the significant factors in maintaining security during the polls was the Indonesian National Police, or INP. Numerous studies in recent years have shown that public trust in the INP has increased – in some cases even doubled, from 40 percent in 2015 to 80 percent in 2019. But a lingering question remains: was this increased trust caused by increasing threats or internal reforms?

The INP is one of the largest police forces in the world. With more than 450,000 officers and 1,268 working units across Indonesia, measuring performance is challenging. We need to look at existing research, surveys and studies of the INP to measure public trust in the force and internal reforms. To measure public trust, the INP has since 2016 hired external survey agencies including the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Kompas Survey and Research Division, and Populi Center. The INP also carries out internal surveys, enlisting independent government agencies and groups such as the Partnership for Governance Reform (PGI). This essay will analyze the most recent public survey and findings from PGI, since it has the widest range of analysis across Indonesia, from the national to the local level, and it also measures the quality of internal and public services.

PGI was created to objectively and comprehensively assess the police’s governance performance. PGI is an evidence-based policymaking tool that has the capacity to measure institutional achievement and compare institutional performance in an objective, fair and accurate manner. Between 2015 and 2018, PGI completed one cycle of baseline measurements of the INP. PGI’s independent team has assessed 31 provincial police departments, 140 police precincts and 12 strategic working units within national police headquarters on seven principles of good governance: competency, responsiveness, behavior, transparency, fairness, effectiveness and accountability.

Consisting of more than 100 indicators per working unit, PGI measured performances across all levels. The six main aspects were human resources, facilities and infrastructure, budget, monitoring, method systems and innovation, which were then compared against the implementation of the functions of nine divisions.

Managing public trust

The decline or increase of public trust in the Indonesian National Police is well documented. Earlier this year, the INP commissioned MarkPlus, a marketing research company, to publish a survey indicating that the force had increased its rate of public trust, especially outside of Java, the country’s main island. The INP applauded the results, yet the public raised an eyebrow.

Trust is a complex, multifaceted concept. It has cognitive, emotional and behavioral components that operate at both the interpersonal and institutional level. Although public trust seems inseparable from public policy, the word “trust” rarely appears in references to Indonesian policy, public management and administration. Mostly it’s about internal trust among the employee, employer and organization, and less about external trust. This essay attempts to discuss a few hypotheses about current performance measurements indicating a high rate of public trust in the Indonesian National Police.

The first premise is that better governance performance and trust will lead to greater public trust. The current chief of the National Police, Gen Tito Karnavian, has introduced a 13-step program to create a more professional, modern and trusted police force. Second, a more consistent performance measurement will lead to greater public trust. It is important to maintain the same measurement tools to
consistently test the level of performance and its correlation with public trust. The Partnership for Governance Reform has consistently empowered the police force from

within through performance measurements since 2015.

Specifically at the national headquarters level, the assessment results for six main divisions were surprisingly positive. If we link these scores to the high level of public trust in the police force, we can conclude that the police manage to pull positive outcomes out of the bag when things are tougher by tapping external resources, networks and connections. Even though its resources don’t match its needs, the INP is able to perform its functions. So, in terms of internal reform, the INP has shown gradual improvement, even though performance may not be the driver of increased public trust.

The people count

After we analyzed differences, we analyzed qualitative findings from three years of research. There are three main factors causing variations in police performance: the monopoly of service, level of public demand and socioeconomic factors of the surrounding population. We linked these factors with the level of public trust and arrived at the following conclusions.

First, the INP is the only institution in Indonesia that can provide security. If there were other options the level of public trust would be a lot harder to achieve or restore. Second, it is interesting to note that surveys from outside of Java indicate that people in those areas have greater trust in the police. This essay suggests that those results correspond to crime rates, population density and education levels. It seems that population density affects demand for public services. This also affects the level of public trust in the police.

Third, socioeconomic factors such as income and education levels also determine the public’s benchmark for service quality. The higher the status of a particular socioeconomic group, the higher the public expectations. What this means generally is that in urban settings, people want fast, clean and modern services, while people in rural areas tend to accept whatever they get because they have no options.

It seems that population density affects demand for public services. This also affects the level of public trust in the police.

In this case, the urban benchmark is higher than in rural areas. People in cities expect police public services such as issuing driver’s licenses and police clearance letters to be of the same quality as banking services. In rural areas, the public complains less and just accepts the level of service given to them. In short, reforming the police also involves reforming the mind-set of the Indonesian people surrounding them.

Reforming internal human resources

Besides external factors, one of the main problems in changing the Indonesian National Police’s work culture is its human resources problem. Many problems and conflicts arise due to inadequate attention to and appreciation for both units and individuals. The INP is an enormous government agency. With more than 450,000 officers it has automated mechanisms that allow the INP to be self-sufficient and self-managed, but also leave it isolated. This culture has hampered INP efforts to effectively address current and future sociopolitical problems.

The police need to be swifter and leaner at the top. Many of the INP’s middle-ranking officers are in stagnant positions due to unplanned and unclear career paths. Given this, the INP needs to focus on human resource management – and even halt recruitment if necessary.

Time to reach out

To create a better police force, public trust should not be measured only by the number of bad guys caught, but also by the extent the INP adopts performance-based systems. The INP must broaden its research and publications through strategic cooperation with civil society organizations, the media and

universities, to build an internal meritocracy. The INP is an organic organization that relies on people’s values. This is a mutually symbiotic relationship but the INP holds the key to changing the culture.

By transforming the organization, the INP actively creates new products, new supplies and new approaches. The role of society is important in shaping the work culture of the police. No matter how good the internal reforms, the changing perspective of society is far more influential. Later, the public will gradually demand the INP invest more in advanced systems such as early detection in conflict-prone areas to anticipate breakouts of radicalism and extremism, high crime rates and other challenges. Only with well-informed citizens and responsive government can the path toward democratic policing be plausible.

Lenny Hidayat is a governance and policy researcher with Indonesia’s Partnership for Governance Reform in Jakarta.

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