Public opinion on the issue is divided 

Security: Despite concerns raised by the opposition party that frisking youth after 10pm would be equal to the suspension of freedom of movement and criminalisation of youth, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) will continue the already enforced measure.

The opposition leader, Dr Pema Gyamtsho, in a letter submitted to the home minister yesterday, asked for a review of the measure and consideration of alternative ways to reduce youth related crimes.

The police introduced the measure, which was announced in a press conference last week, to address increasing incidents of battery or violent incidents involving youth.

RBP media liaison officer, Major Chogyel, said that the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) already gives the police the right to stop and frisk persons.

As per chapter 8, section 166 of the code, a police officer can upon reasonable suspicion of involvement in a criminal offense, stop a person moving about at odd hours in a public place, and a person who cannot give a satisfactory account of him/herself.

Major Chogyel said that the police will continue to frisk youth because of the increasing number of youth crime and the type of weapons involved.

Under the new measure, police are frisking youth in groups of two or more found after 10pm.

During the press conference, the police chief also said that individuals could also be frisked if police personnel find them behaving suspiciously.

The police would like to see two further measures implemented, one is a ban on the sale of knives to youth, and the other is a time restriction to prevent youth loitering late at night. However, for this they require the approval of the home ministry.

Major Chogyel said that the proposal has been submitted and that the police will await directives.

In its letter to the home ministry, the opposition party while acknowledging the “good intent” of the measure, warns that there will be “serious repercussions” on the moral, dignity, and self esteem of the youth.

The opposition party also cautions that the measure creates a high possibility of law enforcement personnel resorting to “overzealous application” and “use of excessive force”. The party states that this would damage existing “good will and cordial relations” between the youth and police created through the Police-Youth Partnership Program (PYPP).

There are a little more than 5,700 students signed up for PYPP, not inclusive of youth who volunteer during major events.

The opposition party also questioned whether the measure would have a positive outcome. It argued that the measure would instead demoralise the youth, alienate them from society, and breed unnecessary resentment, fear and mistrust in law enforcement agencies. “In essence, it would tantamount to suspension of freedom of movement and criminalisation of our youth.”

The party instead recommends strict enforcement of existing laws like closing bars and entertainment establishments on time, age limit for entry and sale of alcohol in such establishments, sale and distribution of drugs and other substances, inspection at entrances of public events and facilities, among others. It also recommends strong advocacy and awareness programs.

According to police statistics, 70 schools including more than 83,000 students have been sensitised so far.

Public opinion has been divided on the measure.

One camp of thought is that the measure is an invasion of privacy and that it could lead to other measures in the name of security. “At the first look even I thought it was an excellent approach by the RBP but what about the negative long term consequences of such stop and frisk,” wrote Pema Thinley on social media. “If a police man walks up to you and suddenly starts frisking you on the basis of suspicion, wouldn’t you feel humiliated, disgusted and above all wouldn’t you feel your right to privacy being violated?,” he asked.

The other camp of thought is that the measure is timely and relevant. “Let RBP do their duty with full public support. Frisking is better any day than getting stabbed or your phone or bag (getting) snatched or car windows broken,” said another social media user, Ugyen Tenzin.

By Gyalsten K Dorji