I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to report a crime to a Thai police station. It can become a somewhat surreal experience.
In my own case, an unexpected motorcycle roar away from the house late one evening led me and the brother-in-law (and he was the one carrying the baseball bat, officer) to discover that someone had broken into Grandma’s room while she was away, ransacked the drawers and stolen whatever she might have been saving as our inheritance. And although neither of us are trained investigators, we quickly found the window that had been forced to gain entry.
A number of questions crossed my mind. Since Grandma had only left that morning, how did the thieves know that there was, temporarily and unusually, no one in that part of the house? Why did the cocker spaniel, that barks her head off at the gas tank lad or the pizza delivery boy, maintain a somnolent silence when her decibels were really needed? And where did the brother-in-law get a baseball bat?
So next morning I toddled off to the local cop shop to report what I thought was a crime.
Now let me say at the outset that I was treated with the utmost courtesy throughout the entire process. The officer on the desk consulted his superior on a number of points. I felt there was a genuine desire to help the victimized public.
Just as long as it didn’t mean the police doing anything.
At first, I thought the investigating officer (that’s what it said on the sign hanging over his desk, but that needs to be changed) must have a fantastic memory. He listened carefully to my account and asked several pertinent questions for clarification. But he took no notes whatsoever. I was later to understand why.
When my narrative was over and I thought my job was done, I was asked a perplexing question:
‘What do you expect the police to do about it?’
I was at this point tempted to go outside and check that it was a police station that I had entered, and not a loony bin or school for actors wanting to appear in police dramas.
I struggled to form a connection in the police officer’s mind between the concepts of ‘crime’ and ‘investigation’ and a general expectation that the police are the organ of society that’s supposed to do the second in order to solve the first.
He seized on my use of the word ‘crime’ to the point where I began to wonder if I wasn’t using the wrong Thai word. I had told the officer that until Grandma came back, we would not know what had been stolen. So how did I know anything had been stolen? Could I prove that a crime had been committed?
Well, maybe they just rifled through Grandma’s lack of possessions for the hell of it, but they broke in. Isn’t that itself a crime?
But did we see anyone? Well, we heard the motorbike leaving, but, I was forced to concede, no, we didn’t actually see anyone.
Well, said the officer, so what do you expect us to do?
I was beginning to suspect that unless I brought in the perpetrators with a signed confession, the police were not going to take action.
But then I had a thought. Paperwork. The saving grace of the Thai bureaucracy.
What I want you to do, I said, is issue me with a report so that we can claim off the insurance. A subtle smile crossed his face. I thought he was pleased at being able to do something at last. And without moving from his desk.
The smile then asked me to give him a detailed list of the stolen property, together with the approximate value of each item. The list I had just told him I didn’t have.
Who knows what treasures were lurking in Grandma’s drawers (I hope you understand that properly)? The officer sighed a deep and, I suspect, satisfied sigh. Unless I could give the police accurate information, then, sadly, there was nothing they could do. Not even issue a report.
I returned home empty-handed, wondering not so much why so many crimes remain unsolved, but how many are never even recorded as such.
Grandma returned and took her losses very phlegmatically. She was rather scathing at our failings as guardians of her worldly wealth but accepted that the craftiness of Thai robbers is difficult to combat.
But what really got her upset was my encounter with the police, which I related to her at length. Her incredulity grew as my narrative progressed. When I finished, she turned to me in amazement.
‘So what did you expect the Thai police to do?’