Thailand’s Tourist Police Volunteers

Royal Thai Tourist Police Badge

In my previous post, Big Trouble in Thailand?,  I related my opinions on a scene involving the Pattaya Tourist Police Volunteers in the British Documentary Big Trouble in Thailand, which was aired on Bravo TV.

Mr. Howard Miller who is the head of the Pattaya Tourist Police Volunteers responded to my post and I thought I should further clarify some misconceptions about the Tourist Police and it’s volunteers as well as give some further opinions on this matter.

I believe that the volunteer tourist police perform a vital function in regards to helping to assist tourists who have found themselves in need of assistance in Thailand. I respect the fact that these volunteers give of their free time to perform these duties, and likewise I think over all they provide a much needed service.

The tourist police volunteers are there to assist the regular tourist police in aiding tourists who have had a problem with a merchant, a Thai national and or any manner of crimes they may have committed or had committed against them. Assisting the police can come in many forms from playing the role of interpreter to simply calming down a distraught individual and giving them a degree of comfort that they are not alone when dealing with the Thai authorities.

The problems start to arise when there is no clear line drawn and the perception becomes that the tourist police volunteers are actual police. Mr. Howard Miller will tell you himself and he has stated on this blog that he is not a police officer and I don’t have any qualms with Mr. Miller or any member of the tourist police volunteers in that regard.

While the tourist police volunteers will tell you they are not regular police their dress and demeanor often belie that fact. They dress in police like uniform, They wear the embroidered badge of the tourist police, they wear the medals and insignia of the regular tourist police as well as don hand cuffs and  batons as the regular Thai tourist police do. These items are not provided by the Royal Tourist Police but purchased by the volunteers themselves.

The tourist police volunteers are a constant presence in Thailand’s popular tourist destinations. On one hand it gives you the reassurance that they are there and ready to help if you should need it but on the other hand you get the impression that they are acting like real police . The addition of the para military style uniform and wearing of handcuffs and batons infers that they have the authority to to arrest, detain and or subdue you. The tourist police volunteers do not have this authority at all as per Thai law or per the Royal Thai Tourist Police.

As per the Royal Tourist police website application:

1.  Volunteers clearly understands that this program is purely volunteer, no payment in kind or cash for contribution what-so-ever
2. TPD will not be held responsible for any loses or accidents during volunteer work
3. Volunteer must pass probabtion period of 3 months to be fully endorsed as a TPD assistant
4. Volunteers understand that being a volunteer is to assist the work of a police officer and not act on behalf of a police officer
5. Volunteers should not be involved in activities such as arrests, interrogations, investigations or inspections.

The below video was taken in March of this year by a gentleman filming on walking street. While I don’t believe the video is as bad as some would suggest I do think it illustrates that the Tourist Police volunteers in Pattaya act as if they have authority that they clearly do not have. The tourist police in this situation had no authority to stop this man, question this man and or tell this man that he had to ask before filming on walking street.

A month before this incident the Tourist police volunteer identified as Mr. Harrison in the above video, who was out of uniform,  was involved in an altercation on beach road while off duty. Mr. Harrison saw an arguement happening between Thai nationals and tried to intervene. Apparently 2 ladyboys were trying to close a deal with a tourist for sexual services when a Thai woman told the tourist that they were in fact men. At this point an arguement ensued between the ladyboys and the Thai woman.

As the arguement became more heated Mr. Harrison, who was walking by, stepped in to break up the fight.  Mr. Harrison pulled out a can of pepper spray and used it on one of the individuals. Mr. Harrison was off duty and out of uniform at the time. He was called to the police station later that night to give his statement.  While his intentions may have been good in helping to diffuse an arguement his actions were not in line with his duties as a Tourist Police Volunteer. An off duty volunteer at that.

This incident and others like it have called into question the role Tourist police volunteers provide in helping to assist the Royal Thailand Tourist Police in their mission of helping tourists and promoting Thailand tourism.

While I think there is a place for the tourist police volunteers they need to be identified clearly as volunteer personnel, which means having a look that is distinguished as different from actual Thai tourist police officers. They should not be allowed to dress in uniforms or carry handcuffs and batons which they are not legally allowed to use.

The biggest problem with this program is that there is no iron clad set of standards enforced from city to city in regards to the Tourist police volunteers. Each departments mission statement reads differently. For example:

In Chiang Mai  Lieutenant Col. Nattawut Chotikanjanawat, inspector of the Chiang Mai Tourist Police states in an interview with the Nation:

These volunteers are not here to fight crime. They are here to serve as an intermediary between tourists and the Thai culture and police. They translate between various languages and Thai, they teach our tourist police to speak English, they tell tourists where to find certain things, or what to do under various situations.

While the Phuket branch of the tourist police volunteers defines the role of their volunteers as:


  • Functions and responsibilities of the Tourist Police Division are as follows:
  • To suppress and to protect criminal problems affecting international tourists.
  • To facilitate and to provide both Thai and international tourists with the security and protection of their interests.
  • To promote the Thai tourism industry.
  • To join with or to support any activities of the authorities concerned.
  • The duty of the Tourist Police is to help and care for tourists throughout Thailand. We would like you to enjoy your trip in the Land of Smiles. We can advise tourists about how to take care of themselves, as well as alerting them to some common problems that they should be aware of when travelling in Thailand.
And then back in 2005 we have a Stickman Bangkok interview with an Australian Tourist police volunteer who states:

Stickman: What are the roles of the farang tourist police?  Just how much power do the farang tourist police volunteers have?  Can you arrest people?  Can you detain people?  Are you equipped with equipment or weapons of any kind?

Volunteer: We are regulated by a long list of rules.  We can arrest anyone.  We can detain an offender (like a ladyboy who steals the wallet from a farang and wants to run off) until a regular cop turns up.  We need to speak at least a reasonable amount of Thai.  We cannot carry firearms, but we do carry handcuffs, a baton and a radio, as well as some of us who are first aid officers and carry medical kits.

Remember,  the official line from the tourist police themselves in the the application for becoming a tourist police volunteer states:

5. Volunteers should not be involved in activities such as arrests, interrogations, investigations or inspections.

There needs to be a clearly defined role for the volunteer tourist police assistants throughout all of Thailand and they should have a clearly defined mission statement that explains exactly in what capacity they are acting when the are wearing the badge of the tourist police.

I think in the majority of cases the Thai Tourist Police Volunteers perform a much needed service and should be applauded for their work. Even so I believe they would be doing themselves and Thailand a huge favor if they dressed more appropriately to their role as assistants to the Royal Thai Tourist Police. Handcuffs and batons should give way to notepads and flashlights and the para military style uniforms should be orange vests with tourist police emblems. Not only would they become more visible to tourists  they would also be much more inviting to a tourist who may feel threatened at the time of contact.

For another view of the Tourist Police Volunteer program please read this article published by the Bangkok Post:

Farang “squad” a force to be reckoned with

sig1 Thailands Tourist Police Volunteers
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11 Responses to Thailand’s Tourist Police Volunteers
  1. Lloyd
    September 9, 2009 | 10:41 pm

    An excellent follow up post.

    I don’t know a single person who does not believe the paramilitary style uniform is way over the top and more likely to incite or confuse some individuals, especially those effected by alcohol or other substances.

  2. Talen
    September 9, 2009 | 10:54 pm

    I agree that the uniform could confuse a tourist in need of help.

    The Royal Thai Police really need to look into removing the uniform from volunteers it serves no purpose.

  3. Catherine
    September 10, 2009 | 12:36 am

    This is the way I look at it…

    Thailand is where men come to fulfill unfulfilled dreams from younger days (for some, it’s much younger days). Thailand is where they can reinvent themselves, if they so wish.

    Some men play the ever popular playboy, some go totally native, while others spend their time being generous to the village poor.

    And (if I’m correct) here we have a group of men who wanted to be policemen. And now they are.

    Me? I always wanted to be a nun.
    Catherine´s last blog ..Free Download: Advanced Thai Reading and Vocabulary Building My ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      September 10, 2009 | 12:43 am

      A nun? You are a very complicated woman my dear.

      I just want to be that guy with the smile on his face because he lives there. But when I drink I become an ex CIA agent :)

  4. Catherine
    September 10, 2009 | 12:47 am

    Talen, if I believe everything I’m told by men sporting a Singha or two, then there are a LOT of ex CIA agents in Thailand. So you’ll be in… you’ll at least have lots of company :-D
    Catherine´s last blog ..Free Download: Advanced Thai Reading and Vocabulary Building My ComLuv Profile

  5. Mike
    September 10, 2009 | 2:53 am

    Wow just got my Internet connection back from TOT, apparently some cows knocked it down!

    Missed all the action from yesterday. Some great comments one of which from Catherine (today) made me smile.

    Since I am ex-old Bill (25 yrs UK police)and part time playboy(retired)with limited funds. I can now identify why I came to Thailand.
    Mike´s last blog ..Orchids of Thailand-"Chocolate" My ComLuv Profile

  6. Walking Street Bum
    September 10, 2009 | 6:35 am

    If they really wanted to have a welcoming image, they should be wearing some kind of bright aloha shirt style tops with their volunteer patches. At least it wouldn’t look so authoritative and clearly distinquishes them from ‘real’ police.

    But that will never happen as these wannabe police can’t play like they are the one in charge of the street.

  7. Martyn
    September 12, 2009 | 2:28 am

    Talen as Lloyd states an excellent follow up to your previous dip into the hornets nest. Your opinions are bang on as far as I’m concerned and orange vests would make them easier to spot and much more approachable. What I can’t understand is that these volunteers don’t get paid anything, surely they must get some small daily expenses or are they all retired and living off big pensions.

    An ex police officer, ex CIA agent and a wannabee nun. The plot thickens, have I stumbled onto something big here.
    Martyn´s last blog ..The Thai Two Finger Salute My ComLuv Profile

  8. Catherine
    September 12, 2009 | 9:50 am

    ‘An ex police officer, ex CIA agent and a wannabee nun. The plot thickens, have I stumbled onto something big here.’

    So, will there be a following post? I’m sure it would be grand :-)
    Catherine´s last blog ..Thai 101 Learners Series: Don’t Speak it, Think it My ComLuv Profile

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