After being prodded by a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator at the legislature yesterday, Minister of the Interior Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) admitted that police officers had mishandled an investigation into the possibility that a protesters could throw petrol bombs during the demonstrations against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Sunday. The case goes as follows: At some point before the rallies on Sunday, the National Security Bureau (NSB) received information that a student surnamed Chen (陳) could be planning violence during the protests. The NSB then shared that intelligence with the National Police Agency (NPA). So far, so good, and it is perfectly normal for intelligence agencies to share information with law-enforcement authorities if they have reason to believe that a crime may be about to be committed.
Liao said the lead turned out to be false and that Chen was only a university student who happened to follow politics. His admission that the police officers’ approach at Chen’s house may have needlessly scared Chen and his family, however, is insufficient, as is DPP Legislator’s Yu Tien’s (余天) insistence that the officers should have apologized immediately after concluding that Chen did not pose a threat. In fact, their focus misses the point entirely.
The real problem with this case (aside from the fact that Chen isn’t exactly an uncommon surname in Taiwan) is that police officers visited the suspect at his home in Pingtung County on Monday, one day after the demonstrations. Surely, if the NSB shared threat-related information with police prior to an event, police would investigate the suspect before the event actually takes place, not after. It would have been perfectly appropriate for police to visit Chen before the rallies to determine whether he represented a threat, even if the information turned out to be wrong.
But as no incendiary attack — or other form of violence — occurred during the protest, police had no business visiting Chen at his home after the event. This also applies in the unlikely scenario that the NSB shared the information with police after the demonstrations, in which case Liao’s contention that the visit by police was meant to ensure public safety during the protest is misleading. If doubts remained, or if the authorities still had reason to believe that Chen remained a threat but did not act on Sunday, the NSB — not police — would have continued investigating, and done so without Chen being aware of it (i.e., through surveillance, intercepts, interviewing sources and so on).
The real mishandling, therefore, isn’t that police failed to apologize. It is, rather, that questioning took place after the fact, which proves that the object of the visit to Chen’s house was not public safety. This may just have been plain incompetence on part of the police. It may also have been an attempt to intimidate, which visits by police at one’s residence will usually accomplish.