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Are the police shooting to kill?

Norizan Salleh (file pic)

POLICE-shooting victim Norizan Salleh never imagined she would ever be shot at. She describes how she felt lying on a highway near Gombak on 30 Oct 2009 after being shot five times by the police while on her way home: “I kept asking myself, ‘Betul ke, saya kena tembak? Is this what it feels like?’

“I felt my body and saw blood on my hands. My breath was becoming shallower and my hands were very cold. I wondered, ‘Is this how it feels like to die?'” Norizan tells The Nut Graph.


Norizan isn’t the only person to have been shot by the police in 2009. In August, two men were gunned down when they reportedly charged at the police with machetes after committing armed robbery in Shah Alam. Then on 8 Nov, police shot dead five men in Klang, also alleged armed robbers. Just a week later, police fatally shot a man who had reportedly run amok with a dagger in Guar Sanji, Perlis.

While we would certainly like to see less armed robbers and criminals on the streets, does it have to involve the police shooting suspects dead? Are there alternative means of apprehending these suspects alive? And who is policing the police to ensure that they are not indiscriminately using their weapons, thereby causing unnecessary deaths in the process?

Numbers game

Charles Santiago (file pic)
According to Klang MP Charles Santiago, media reports show there were 39 deaths from police shootings in 2009. A Suaram press statement says in 2008, there were 44 such deaths. On average, that’s more than three deaths a month. And that’s not taking into account unreported shootings and deaths in police custody.

Yes, the police must surely have a right to defend themselves and those whom they protect from suspected criminals when life is being threatened.  But why is the death rate from police shootings so high in Malaysia? Consider this. In countries like the United Kingdom, with more than twice our population, there was only one fatal shooting by the police in 2006. In some years, there were none at all.

Unanswered questions

Suaram coordinator Lucas Yap says that the killing of individuals by unlawful police shootings is a common occurrence in Malaysia, although the precise number is difficult to ascertain.

“The circumstances of police shootings in Malaysia indicate that the police do not try to apprehend suspects alive but shoot with the intention to kill,” Yap tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview. “In virtually all cases of shooting deaths, the police claim that the suspects were armed and dangerous, that the suspects shot first, and that return fire was necessary.”

“Of course, police say they shoot in self-defence…But there are instances where it is difficult to justify their actions. Shooting is something that should be avoided,” Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Siva Subramaniam tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.

Senior lawyer and former Bar Council president Raja Aziz Addruse says that proper justification must be given for the taking of a life. “Just to say, ‘Because they were shooting at me,’ is insufficient,” he says. “In many of these cases, there’s always a gun found in the car. It’s just too coincidental. Very often, all the people allegedly involved are killed.”

Siva Subramaniam
“Police must justify how they use their firearms,” Raja Aziz says. “It doesn’t mean that in all these cases, they have to shoot to kill.”

Yap says that even if the claims of armed suspects are true, the police could consider other means of neutralising suspects, such as by using stun guns, tranquiliser shots or tear gas that are not lethal. “In the limited circumstances where shootings are warranted by law, suspects could be shot in the legs or arms and captured alive,” Yap adds.

“Whatever it is, a shoot-to-kill policy is against human rights,” says Siva. “The right to life is one of the basic rights which we should have to ensure.”


Yap says that if suspects are shot dead by police, inquests must be held within a month to determine whether the police made any efforts to apprehend suspects alive. In the long run, a coroner’s court should be set up to investigate all deaths involving the police.

“Where killings are found to be avoidable, the police must be held accountable for their action,” Yap says.

Raja Aziz also cites the need for an independent tribunal to look into police shootings. “In other countries, an independent inquiry would be held to find out what happened,” he says. “For example, in the UK, an inquiry was held in the case of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.” The inquiry eventually found the Met police force guilty of endangering public safety, and it was penalised for shooting de Menezes dead.

Raja Aziz says the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) is inadequate to monitor the police, as its jurisdiction is too general. “With the rampant abuses that have been perpetuated by the police, there should be a proper, separate commission,” he says. “Also, police officers have much greater powers than those in other agencies such as the MACC, immigration or customs.”

Written guidelines

lucas yap
Lucas Yap (pic courtesy of Lucas Yap)
So what aspects would a tribunal scrutinise in a police shooting?

Yap cites the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials as a guide.

“Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” states Article 9 of the basic principles. The article states that discharging firearms is meant as a last resort, when less extreme means of protecting lives have proven insufficient.

Article 10 goes on to state that in using firearms, “officials shall identify themselves as such and give a clear warning on their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed.” This must be adhered to unless to do so “unduly places the law enforcement officials at risk or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons…”

Malaysia’s written guidelines for the police on the use of firearms is supposedly a “restricted” document which the public cannot access.

“So far, we have not managed to get a copy of the written procedures,” says Siva. “This will be brought up during our meeting with the police.” Attempts by The Nut Graph to get a copy from the Home Minister also went unanswered.

Political will

Raja Aziz says unless the government has the political will to deal with these issues regarding the police, nothing will change.

Hishammuddin Hussein (file pic)
He recalls writing an article on a spate of deaths by police shootings in the late 1990s. “…[then Prime Minister Tun Dr] Mahathir Mohamad openly criticised me saying, ‘Wait until someone holds a gun to his head.’ If this is the attitude of the prime minister of the time and the government, nothing is going to be done.”

Recently, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein reportedly said that police would be responsible for their actions, including shooting criminals in self-defence.

But with no inquest or inquiry in sight for the numerous deaths by police shootings, one has to wonder, just what does that mean? favicon

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15 Responses to “Are the police shooting to kill?”

  1. Ritchie says:

    As clarified in your article, news reports often quote police personnel who declare that they opened fire because certain individuals who were armed shot at them first. Furthermore, police claim that weapons were found in the vehicles of those shooting at them. In proper criminal apprehension or guidelines of the police guidebook, there need to be strict procedures adhered to remove a pistol or even execute it. The number of prison lock-up deaths and other unexplained deaths is not only a cause for concern, but reveal a deeper malaise.

    The police code of conduct regulations ensure that operation procedures are not optional or irrelevant in conducting investigation on suspects, individual citizens or groups. The element of clarification and evidence of criminal violations are to be systematically recorded and such evidence open to examination and scrutiny for all.

    There has been a growing deterioration in the level of public trust in the local police force, espcially in its methods of conducting investigations. Malaysians are concerned over the impartiality of the police force and its presumed alignment to certain goverment political parties and heightened harrassment of oppostion parties and citizens who express their opinions peacefully.

  2. sofea says:

    […] They must think first before pulling the trigger…it is not easy to take someone’s life even if we have a gun in our hand…The average of 3 deaths each month can be reduced if police take more action to catch victims while alive.

  3. SAM says:

    We can make a hue and cry about police killing but do you think they care. The police have become a law unto itself. They are more powerful than an elected Pakatan government. See how they bully elected representatives. They even walk on stage and snatch away the mics.

  4. Avenger says:

    What will happen if a do gooder became a victim of crime? One do gooder less. For once the police are doing a great job. Use criminals as target practice and crime should collapse. Safe streets and homes – that is what M’sians desire.

  5. DingDong says:

    I find it misleading using the UK as a comparison to Malaysia. The criminals in the UK are not as hardcore compared with Malaysia. Please use a developing country as a fair yardstick. If you associate yourself with hardcore criminals, the chances of you being hurt in a crossfire increases many fold …

    I do agree with the point that criminals who fire first should be shot at, at non-lethal body parts if possible. It requires a lot of training and composure. If you have been in a crossfire you will know that in the heat of the moment, the only thing in your brain is self preservation. Point and shoot.

    Maybe new shooting training should be suggested to the Home Ministry.

  6. azmo says:

    Aren’t they trained to shoot and kill? I have to be say it may sound callous and inhumane, [but] it is much easier to kill than to wound and interrogate … Interrogation requires procedures. If it goes off the books, then the case will thrown out in court, if it gets to court [to begin with]. As the saying goes, dead men tell no tales.

  7. trigger happy says:

    We need these “trigger happy”, [there’s] too much crime in our country. Let the police do our “dirty work” without us being answerable. Better if the police can target all the monkey politician from both BN & PR. This will make the country safer from those corrupted, selfish, good for nothing politicians.

  8. Nik says:

    There’s a lot of problems with the police in Malaysia but this comment “In the limited circumstances where shootings are warranted by law, suspects could be shot in the legs or arms and captured alive…” just shows how much the article is out of touch with reality.

    It’s not easy to shoot at a limb. Even if you can shoot like Annie Oakley at a range, when you’re in danger and your blood is pumping, even hitting the torso is a challenge. In the US, police shoot to stop a threat. That means shooting at the torso until the threat is nullified; usually this results in the death of the assailant as threats are nullified when a vital organ or the spine is hit and they collapse.

  9. Jamie Khoo says:

    Just a curious question: Why don’t we hear court cases about bank robberies or if some gang is caught producing drugs?

    I mean, there are stories in the newspapers about how police have managed to crack-down on them…. but we don’t hear about the court cases AFTER that.

    What happened to them? Have they been detained without trial? Or dare we say, have they been shot and forgotten?

  10. somethingStirring says:


    I hope you are being funny even though I don’t find what you say funny at all. If you are serious (which I hope you are not), then to you and anyone who agrees with you, if one day when you are driving home, get shot five times, lie in a pool of blood, feel your life drifting away, want to call your loved ones but you are too weak to, I hope you remember what you said here.

    Of course, we don’t want this to happen to anyone, especially the innocent ones. That is why we should object to this. Right?

  11. semuanya OK kot says:

    O my lords and masters, all this while I thought you had the inalienable right to exploit, beat and even kill us. Now all these pendatang are saying you are wrong, even when it is such a quick death. Please shine your wisdom on us all.

  12. Art Patik says:

    Isn’t it a wonder every time there is a shoot out between PDRM and thieves , the thieves get gunned down like the Combat series in 1970s, where the Americans will always win and Germans getting killed. But the only difference is that the Germans don’t leave behind 1 pistol , 2 parangs, 3 grams of drugs, 4 handphones and 5 screw drivers for the Americans each time.

  13. mycuntree says:

    Yes, the script is almost always the same every time suspect/s are shot dead by the police. After all, who’s to “question” the PDRM version about such events?

    Have we also noticed that when it comes to cigarette smuggling, the authorities always manage to obtain smuggled cigarettes, but the smugglers always jump into the sea and escape arrest?? I always wonder if these smugglers have a submarine that allows them to escape to when the enforcement personnel come too close for comfort.

  14. Rachel says:

    @Nik, I do not believe that it is necessary to shoot the torso to nullify a threat. You cannot compare Malaysia to the US, where shooting is rampant and everyone carries a gun. If the police force cannot be expected to disarm an alleged criminal without causing fatalities, then they need more training, simple as that. The police force is not there to ‘execute’, their job is to arrest a criminal and bring them to justice. Opening fire and simply shooting until the alleged criminal is gunned down is hardly going to make the community feels confident about the police. What we want is transparent and responsible use of weapons and that criminals are brought to justice in court.

  15. Tony says:


    There is little regard for innocent victims in the vicinity of the targets, because the hit is really an execution. This is taking a page out of police procedure in countries like Brazil, where this practice saves incarceration efforts and tiresome legal procedure to prove guilt that is both time consuming and expensive.

    Those executed may deserve punishment and may even not be victims of mistaken identity, but the sentiment – to shoot to kill only arises in third world countries where human life is not considered sacred. […]

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