Indonesia's police chief in hot seat

Indonesian police chief Badrodin Haiti has his work cut out for him.

As the man in charge of the national police force, he must deal with terrorist threats, help tamp down ethnic tensions in all nooks of the country and keep up the spirits of the 430,000-strong force that many believe to be among the country's most corrupt institutions.

Just eight months into the job in South-east Asia's biggest economy, the 57-year-old has notched up some successes.

Indonesians heaved a big sigh of relief just two weeks ago, when he announced the arrest of nearly a dozen militants in Java's provinces.

Some had ready-to-use bombs and others were groomed to be suicide bombers as they planned attacks in the run-up to the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Last month, the vast archipelagic nation spanning three time zones peacefully held its first regional elections in 264 regions.

In praising General Badrodin's role, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters recently: "We thank him for the hard work done by the police to help make the regional elections run smoothly and safely."

A hands-on leader, Gen Badrodin visited Papua recently to cool tensions between the minority Muslims and majority Christians.

Every week after Friday prayers, the four-star generalwillingly takes questions from waiting reporters as he leaves the mosque at police headquarters.

"If there is good communication and teamwork, any problem can be solved," Gen Badrodin told The Straits Times on Friday at the end of his weekly doorstop interview.

The fourth of 10 children of an Islamic cleric in East Java, Gen Badrodin was the only one in his extended family who joined the police force.

Many of his relatives, including three of his siblings, are teachers.

"I wanted to change the family's tradition," Gen Badrodin said when asked why he joined the force.

He likened a policeman's job to that of a cleric. "A cleric gives understanding to the public through his preaching while a policeman does the same through his authority." Two of his children are policemen and one is a pharmacist.

The national spotlight is a big step-up for the cop who built his career over the years.

Two decades ago, the then West Jakarta chief detective pounded the streets of the capital city's ghetto in plainclothes to investigate the kidnapping of a schoolgirl by the family driver. The closely-watched case was resolved within a few days.

As police chief of the jungle-clad Central Sulawesi province between 2006 and 2008, Gen Badrodin based himself in Poso town, where the country's most-wanted terrorist Santoso was hiding. This surprised many, as the provincial police chief usually works out of the more cushy and much safer provincial capital of Palu.

His presence helped calm religious tensions in Poso between Muslims and Christians, which had claimed more than a thousand lives since the 1990s and displaced 25,000 people.

"As the police chief of Central Sulawesi, I was in charge of maintaining the security of the whole province. The key is Poso," Gen Badrodin told The Straits Times on his decision to be based in Poso.

"If Poso is safe, Central Sulawesi is safe," he added.

Still, some critics such as the National Human Rights Commission have accused Gen Badrodin of using tactics in his work in Poso that violated human rights.

He was later made police chief of North Sumatra province, whose capital Medan is an urban melting pot with one of the highest crime rates in the country.

The myriad experiences have put him in good stead today.

Criminologist Erlangga Masdiana told The Straits Times: "Badrodin scored several achievements when he was police chief in provinces across Indonesia. He handled Poso well... He dealt smoothly with the street thugs problem in Medan that is worse than in Jakarta."

Gen Badrodin came into his job amid controversy linked to the administration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

In January last year, Mr Joko nominated General Budi Gunawan to succeed the retiring police chief, General Sutarman. Gen Budi is close to the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri. But a few days later, the Corruption Eradication Commission named Gen Budi, who was an adjutant to Ms Megawati when she was President, as a suspect in a bribery case. That prompted Mr Joko to pick Gen Badrodin, who was then the deputy police chief.

Anti-money laundering agency Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre cleared Gen Badrodin of accusations that he had large deposits in his bank accounts.

With his leadership skills, Gen Badrodin has gradually refuted the view among some senior police generals that he would merely be a puppet to the political elite.

Asked how he pulled it off, Gen Badrodin said: "We do not want to protect the individuals, the titles we have, but the police force as an institution. This must be the priority. Individuals are replaceable.

"Budi Gunawan will eventually retire, I will retire and others will retire too, while the police force must continue to operate and have the public's trust."

This article was first published on January 11, 2016.
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