Indonesia's new police chief Tito tasked with unifying police force against crime, terrorism and graft

Indonesia's new National Police chief General Tito Karnavian as he attends his inauguration at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 13, 2016.
Indonesia's new National Police chief General Tito Karnavian as he attends his inauguration at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 13, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called on his new police chief Tito Karnavian to be a unifying force against crime, terrorism and corruption.

"I want you to focus on two things: First safeguard unity, and second, build solidarity... crime can only be defeated if we are united," Mr Joko said on Wednesday (July 13) during the swearing-in ceremony for the three-star police general at the Istana Negara presidential palace.

He also ordered the top cop to help clean up the justice system and shield it from graft, adding that law enforcement officers must be professional and willing to work with other institutions such as the Corruption Eradication Commission.

General Tito is the second National Police Chief, or Kapolri in local lingo, appointed by the president in as many years. He replaces General Badrodin Haiti who retires next month after serving in the four-star post since April last year.

This is also General Tito's second promotion this year - he received his third star after being appointed in March as chief of the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT), or national counter-terrorism agency.

The new police chief has long been earmarked for the job but the promotion, coming just three months after he was asked to head the national counter-terrorism agency, still took many by surprise.

At 51, he was the first among his 1987 cohort to be appointed to the three-star general rank and is now the youngest National Police Chief in the history of the force since Indonesia's independence.

Known as a warrior-philosopher who is not only good with a gun, but also able to look beyond the barrel of one to prevent a terror attack from taking place, General Tito is highly regarded both at home and oveseas.

The former Jakarta police chief first gained prominence after dismantling the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network, which had wreaked havoc across South-east Asia for almost a decade.

A year before the Jan 14 terror attack in Jakarta by homegrown militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), General Tito had flagged the threat from Indonesians who had joined the group, saying they would pose a danger to the region upon their return.

As commander of the Detachment 88 (Densus 88) counter-terrorism unit, General Tito had led the operations that took out Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top, two JI militants behind the 2002 Bali bombings.

He also oversaw the Densus 88 raid on a JI training camp in Aceh, which led to the arrest of the group's spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir and radical ideologue Aman Abdurrahman in 2010.

The capture of the two clerics eventually led to the breakdown of the JI network in Indonesia.

General Tito, who was born in Palembang, South Sumatra, is married with a daughter and two sons.

He graduated top of his class at the Police Academy in 1987 and went on to complete a master's degree in police studies from the University of Exeter, as well as a second degree in strategic studies from Massey University in New Zealand.

In 2013, he received his doctorate in terrorism and Islamic radicalisation from Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The highly educated police officer, however, is no armchair general.

Besides investigating several terror attacks, he was involved in prominent cases such as the 2001 arrest of former president Suharto's son, Tommy, over the murder of a judge, as well as the beheading of three Christian girls in Poso, Central Sulawesi, in 2005.

After his stint as Densus 88 commander ended in 2010, General Tito was appointed second-in-command at BNPT, where he remained until he was promoted to police chief in Papua province in 2012.

He is now riding high after being widely commended for his handling of the attack in Jakarta while he was the capital's police chief, a role he was promoted to last year.

Indonesia, however, is now facing threats on several fronts including rising cases of drug abuse and trafficking as well as terrorism, particularly from domestic terror networks and smaller militant cells trying to take over the mantel from the JI.

ISIS has also started to bear its teeth in the country through local proxies who have made no secret that one of their key targets are police officers.

Just last week, on the eve of Aidilfitri, a policeman in Solo was wounded when he intercepted an ISIS-linked suicide bomber trying to blow up at a police station.

Still, General Tito is widely regarded as the best man for the job today.

Mr Anugerah Rizki Akbari, who teaches criminal law at the University of Indonesia, noted that unlike the chaotic nomination of a previous police chief candidate Budi Gunawan last year, all relevant parties have backed "without reservation" Mr Joko's choice this time round.

"With his excellent professional and academic credentials, Tito... enjoyed a smooth process of approval by the House of Representatives, during which he pledged to transform the force into a better organisations," he wrote in an op-ed published by The Jakarta Post earlier this month.

"Nevertheless, Tito will face the same question posed to his predecessors - Will he fulfill his promises?"

Another challenge, he will face, say experts like Mr Cerdikwan, is to boost public trust in the police.

But the planner in the directorate of defence and security at the National Development Planning Agency wrote that there is no better time to implement reforms in the police force.

"Since 1999, the impact of police reform attempts has been minimal," he added.

"Expectations that the new National Police chief will bring about changes that can improve public perception and address widespread distrust of the National Police are high... General Tito needs to deliver those expectations and offer sustainable security and order to the Indonesian people."

tkchan@sph.come.sg