A reader of this column writes to share the following story. Some money was stolen from a safe in a friend’s Seminyak home. The husband had unfortunately left the key out in plain site (husbands are like that). A number of staff members employed in the house fell under first suspicion. The couple called the Bali police to report the theft and try to discover the culprit. The police arrived, took some notes (as I would imagine it), and prepared to depart. It was at this point that the disinherited home owners asked if the officers couldn’t perhaps take some fingerprints from the staff members. Though we, as mere laymen, are not well versed in the finer points of investigative procedures and techniques, the suggestion would seem a no-brainer. Chances seemed fair to good, after all, that the thief was standing in the very midst. And if not -- if all passed inspection -- the matter would be solved to that point, anyway.
Fingerprints, they were told, could in fact be taken, but this would come at a cost of Rp.4 million.
What? Yes. It seems that here in Bali the victims of a crime must pay for an investigation of the same. You’ll not see that on CSI, folks. Fingerprints, DNA samples, ballistics, interrogation . . . Hmm, let us check our price list first.
Is there a schedule of fees, my reader asks, that the ex-pat can obtain in order to be prepared in advance?
I think not. Because really these things don’t happen at all. Ask any policeman, he’ll tell you.
Well, Rp.4 million seemed excessive, and so the couple fired their entire staff instead.
Now to be fair I must say that, in America anyway, demanding fingerprints on the spot, on the basis of a suspicion, is very likely against the law. I can’t say for sure, because I’m not a cop or a lawyer or a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Nor do I have any useful experience at being a criminal. I just suspect that our all-American fixation on protecting the rights of the individual law-breaker would supersede any such good reasoning, leading, as it might, to the violation of someone’s civil rights.. More than likely the victim’s. And we must be very careful about that, mustn’t we?
But this, after all, is Bali -- a comparatively reasonable country. Here the police have much freer rein to perform in whatever manner they will. Here the police can pull you over on the highway merely on the suspicion that you are a foreigner and may have money. Here the police are perfectly free to circumvent the nuisance of legal procedure and simply pocket your money -- a fee which itself is in accordance not with legal guidelines but with the extent of the motorist’s naiveté -- i.e., if you’re new around here it will be Rp.250.000 or more, if you’re experienced in the game it will be only Rp.50.000.
The driving principal is not law enforcement, but the collection of money. Accordingly, the ex-pat must be careful to follow two simple rules of thumb: 1) Avoid having any kind of trouble, and 2) Don’t call the police if you do have any kind of trouble. That’s the real no-brainer here, and any local will tell you so.
But it’s not all bad news. Here’s the good news. In Bali the police are authorized to detain any vehicle and driver as they please. (Wait for it). They are able to search any vehicle as they please. They do not need a cause, they do not need a warrant, they do not need a Federal Court order or a specialist or a Captain or a General. If they find a bomb in the trunk of a car so detained, they do not need to read the bomber his Miranda rights or summon higher authorities or pussy-foot around in any way -- no, they arrest the man on the spot, cart him off to jail, and maybe even knock him upside the head along the way if it strikes them as a good idea. And that’s only fair, isn’t it? What self-respecting bomber can have any sensible objection to being knocked upside the head?
Still and all, it’s not a perfect system. I discovered this for myself on a recent visit to the Bali Mall Galleria. It was a Sunday, and the Christmas Season, and so the mall parking lot was very crowded. Whereas cars are usually checked by guards as they enter the mall grounds, they were not being checked this day. We were waved straight through. Nonetheless, my wife stopped the car and beckoned to the officer at the gate, despite the blaring horns of frustrated drivers from behind.
“Why are you not checking the cars?” she asked.
“Oh, too crowded, Bu -- not enough time.”
But hold on -- isn‘t that the point in this sort of thing? What better time for a terrorist to strike than during the Christmas season at a crowded mall?
Oh well, like I said . . . it’s not a perfect system.