BKK Traffic Cops Told to Respect Bosses' Privilege

A police officer giving away free mango at a traffic checkpoint in Nakhon Sawan province, 15 April 2012.

BANGKOK — Traffic police have been ordered to memorize the license plates and faces of their superiors after Bangkok's police chief complained yesterday that he was asked to take a breathalyzer test despite his insistence that he was not intoxicated.

Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah Rangsipramkul, the commander of the city’s police force, told reporters yesterday that volunteer traffic cops failed to recognize him when he was flagged down at a road checkpoint – he was off-duty and not wearing a uniform – and insisted that he take a breathalyzer test even though he told them he was sober "five times."

“Eventually, I had to tell them who I was and get out of my car and criticize them,” he told reporters yesterday.

Today, Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanapon Techatanon, a senior officer at Traffic Police Division, said he has asked all traffic officers to familiarize themselves with their superiors to avoid similar incidents in the future.

"I have instructed all volunteers and police officers to memorize faces, names, and license plates of their commanders well, so that this mistake will not happen again," Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanapon said. 

He added that volunteer traffic officers will need to go through "a short orientation to see if they are qualified."

"They must speak politely,” he said. "They have to be gentle with people. As for selecting which car for alcohol test, we will judge by the clothes, manner, and the way they talk. For example, some people use too much perfume to hide an alcohol smell – that's a factor that will merit an alcohol test."

Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanapon said people who do not test positive for alcohol will be thanked for their cooperation. 

The maximum penalty for driving under influence in Thailand is one year in prison, a 20,000 baht fine, and the revocation of the driver's license. Refusing to take a breathalyzer test also carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Police have not said whether Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah will face any legal action.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah said the traffic officers should have been able to tell that he was not intoxicated.

"After talking to someone who is sober for one to two minutes, you should be able to tell that they don’t smell of alcohol,he said. "Those people shouldn't be called to take the test. You have to look. Don't just randomly inspect people."

"After I identified myself to [the volunteer cops], they turned pale," Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah said, according to Matichon. "I only lectured them because they lacked judgment in their inspection." 

When a Matichon reporter asked how police should respond to celebrities or other VIPs who object to taking breathalyzer tests, Sriwarah replied, "If that's the case, police officers should file me a report about the incident."

He stressed, "It wasn’t right that they wanted to test me even though I did not drink any alcohol. If ordinary people have this experience, what would they think? I have ordered them not to allow this kind of incident to happen ever again." 

Last month, police allowed a Thai-British actress, Anna Hambawaris, to leave without taking a breathalyzer test after she crashed her car into a police vehicle and killed the officer who was sleeping inside. The incident has drawn criticism from those who believe police gave the actress privileged treatment. 

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