Saturday, August 11, 2007 To Punish Thai Police, a Hello Kitty Armband By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK, Aug. 7 — It is the pink armband of shame for wayward police officers, as cute as can be with a Hello Kitty face and a pair of linked hearts.
No matter how many ribbons for valor a Thai officer may wear, if he parks in the wrong place, or shows up late for work, or is seen dropping a bit of litter on the sidewalk, he can be ordered to wear the insignia.
“Simple warnings no longer work,” said Pongpat Chayaphan, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, who instituted the new humiliation this week.
“This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor,” he said. “Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.”
Ten of the armbands have been prepared, but so far none have actually been issued, according to an officer who declined to give his name while discussing this sensitive topic.
“After this policy came out, the police are scared,” the officer said. “It will be very embarrassing to walk around with Hello Kitty on your arm.” It is a step down from the Crime Suppression Division’s official motto: “When you have no one to turn to, come to us.”
Mr. Pongpat, who has trained with the American Secret Service and the Canadian police, was promoted to head the division three months ago and says he wants to modernize his force, “even though we lack the highest technology, equipment and mind-set.”
An aide, Maj. Weeraprach Wonrat, said the chief was a believer in behavioral science and in the “broken window theory,” which holds that small changes can have large effects.
Pink armbands for misdemeanors are a start. Stronger measures could be next for corruption and extrajudicial killings.
An early experiment using armbands was not encouraging. Mr. Pongpat first tried using plaid ones. But instead of feeling shame, Major Weeraprach said, the officers took them home as souvenirs. The force still has only one of the ten it originally issued.
After that misfire, police commanders met again to consider strategy, he said, and agreed that Hello Kitty might work where tartan had failed.
So far, he said, there is no fallback plan. The department has not yet decided what punishment to impose if officers make off with their pink armbands as well.