Readers' Submissions

The Phuket Foreign Tourist Police Volunteers (TPVs)

  • Written by TPV Simon
  • February 11th, 2009
  • 19 min read






There was a recent submission from Restless in Rawaii about the Foreign Tourist Police Assistants. Most of his comments concerned the volunteers in Pattaya, and the general tone of his article was highly critical of them!
I'm not here to defend the Pattaya volunteers. I live in Phuket and work as a volunteer with the Phuket Tourist Police. I've written this article to explain more about the Phuket volunteers and hope to dispel some of the myths and criticism that abounds on forums and web-boards.
Foreign Police Volunteers in Thailand
There are foreigners helping the Thai police in several different cities, including Pattaya, Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I previously worked as a volunteer translator with the Royal Thai Police at Lumpini police station in Bangkok.
Most volunteers work under the command of the Thai Tourist Police. However, the actual responsibilities and regulations of these volunteers is under the control of each regional commander of the Tourist Police. So rules that apply to the volunteers in Phuket may not be the same as for volunteers in Pattaya.
Other volunteers work under the command of the Royal Thai Police or Immigration Department. This can be somewhat confusing to tourists who encounter foreign volunteers. Tourists will naturally assume that all volunteers are working in the same team. Sometimes, this confusion means that criticism is directed at the wrong team of volunteers!
Foreign Police Volunteers in Phuket
There are two groups of foreign volunteers who work in Phuket. Firstly, there are the Immigration Police Volunteers. These people are stationed at Phuket Immigration office at Saphan Hin, where they provide comprehensive advice about visa renewals and visa problems. They also have a team who are stationed at the beach-end of Bangla Road, Patong, just by the police office.
The second group of volunteers work for the Tourist Police and it's that team that I am involved with. Our remit is to assist wherever we are needed in Phuket. So we can be found dealing with specific incidents throughout the island, as we are called upon to help.
We are most likely to be seen when we work in Bangla Road, Patong. Since Bangla and the surrounding area has the highest number of tourists, it makes sense for us to have our volunteers working in that area. We try to provide volunteer assistance every evening from 9pm until midnight.
There are also many Thais who work as volunteers with the Tourist Police. So you will often see us working together as one team.
The concept of 'volunteer' is very important! We receive no remuneration for our assistance, nor do we receive any special favours.
The Role of The Tourist Police Volunteers (TPVs) in Phuket
So what do the foreign TPVs actually do? Do they spend all evening arresting rowdy tourists who are simply having fun in Bangla? Of course not!
The motto of the Thai Tourist Police is 'Serve & Protect', and that is the objective of every TPV, both foreign and Thai. The actual tasks that we are called upon to assist with are varied, and have included the following:
  • Provide tourist information and advice

  • Assist tourists who need help in translating to/from Thai

  • Monitor crowded areas for suspicious packages

  • Monitor crowded areas for pickpockets and alert tourists who fail to look after their bags or wallets, – eg wallet sticking out of back pockets!

  • Assist with disputes between tourists and bars/shops, and always seek to resolve the dispute in an amicable manner

  • Assist tourists who are too drunk to remember their hotel/guesthouse name and location!

  • Assist and if necessary, restrain and detain foreigners who are aggressive, fighting or causing an unacceptable nuisance to other tourists

  • Assist and if necessary, restrain and detain any foreigner suspected of illegal activities, such as drug-dealing, theft or fraud.

  • Assist foreigners who are unwell or taken ill. Provide immediate medical assistance and summons ambulance or accompany them to hospital.

  • Attend formal functions and events as instructed, such as the Patong Carnival.

That list is not exhaustive, but helps to illustrate the fact that most of our activities are not directly concerned with 'police' duties. We are more 'Tourist Assistant' than 'Tourist Police'.
So why not call us Tourist Assistants? The easy answer is that because our team was established by the Thai Tourist Police AND because we do fulfill some limited police duties, it makes sense for our uniforms to carry the word 'police'.

Our Uniform – Casual, Smart and not Military

Speaking of uniforms, the previous reader's submission was highly critical of the military style of uniform that is worn by volunteers in Pattaya. Here in Phuket, we prefer a more 'easy-on-the-eye' garb of dark blue baseball cap, white polo shirt, dark blue trousers and black shoes. We are not military personnel and do not wish to portray that impression. Trousers are not allowed to be gathered at the ankle (military-style) and if boots are worn then the trousers must hang outside the boots and not tucked inside. <The Pattaya chapter really could take a leaf out of your book in this regardStick>
Continuing with the aim to distance ourselves from paramilitary look, the foreign TPVs in Phuket are not allowed to wear dark sunglasses (unless it's extremely sunny!). We understand the psychological importance of allowing both friend and foe to see your eyes.
There does exist a dark blue uniform with beret and blue shirt. That uniform is only worn on formal occasions, such as meeting senior Thai police officials. With the exception of our Supervisor, volunteers are not allowed to wear blue uniforms in the normal course of patrol duties.

The Batman Belt

Criticism is often made about the 'Batman Belt' that volunteers wear, apparently festooned with all manner of defensive and offensive weapons. Well let's put the record straight by showing the belt that I wear when on my volunteer duties.
Indeed, there are many items hanging from this belt. Actually, like police forces in many countries, (volunteers and salaried officers), the Batman Belt is an obligatory part of the uniform and is the ideal place to hang easily-accessible equipment that might be needed.
So what's on my belt? Looking from left to right:
1 – Pepper Spray. Phuket TPVs carry a small pepper spray canister in a discrete pouch, and not visible to the public. As with nightstick and handcuffs, the pepper spray is only authorised for use as a last resort of defence, such as when dealing with someone who is physically attacking the officer. The effects of pepper spray are very uncomfortable but temporary.
Has a volunteer ever had to use their pepper spray? Not as far as I know!
2 – Torchlight. No explanation is needed. Useful in many different situations where there is insufficient light.
3 – Camera (not illustrated cos I'm using it to take this photo!). A digital camera can be very useful to capture events as they happen, and to pass these photos onto other volunteers. For example, when I worked in Bangla last night, a tourist complained about an aggressive ladyboy. A photo was discretely taken of this ladyboy and circulated to other police officers – both Thai and foreign. The ladyboy was carefully watched throughout the evening and subsequently detained when he (she?) was seen to threaten a tourist.
4 – Handcuffs. All TPVs are trained in the correct use of handcuffs and how to apply them so as not to cause pain to the person being detained. (Handcuffs typically 'snap' over the wrists, but will not snap if they are incorrectly used by the police officer, resulting in a very painful blow to the wrist of the person being detained).
Has any Phuket TPV ever had to use their handcuffs to restrain and detain a person?
Yes, on several occasions, especially with those who are very drunk and aggressive at the same time. I have never had to use my handcuffs, because those drunks who I have needed to detain have been reasonably co-operative! Use of handcuffs is seen as a last resort option.
5 – Radio. You will often see our Bangla Road volunteers sporting walkie-talkie radios, complete with discrete ear-piece and microphone. Very macho!? Actually, there is a very practical reason for using these types of equipments. The radio can be used to rapidly communicate with other volunteers, such as to summons medical assistance or to provide alerts about the location of pickpockets. The covert earpiece is absolutely essential due to the very high noise level within the bar areas! It's impossible to communicate with each other when music is blaring out at 130 decibels.
Because of these high noise levels, our volunteers also use hand signals to communicate when they are within sight of each other but out of hearing range. So don't worry if you see one of our volunteers twirling his hand above his head like a nutter!
6 – First Aid kit. Several of the Phuket TPVs are trained medics or First Responders, including myself. I carry a small first-aid kit which includes medical gloves, CPR mask, heart-rate/blood Oxygen indicator, as well as several items to provide/clear airways for victims of vehicle accidents.
Have I ever had to use this kit?
Yes indeed, including victims of heatstroke, alcohol poisoning, fainting and serious road accidents – all within the Bangla area.
7 – Nightstick. In Thailand, this item is carried by both volunteer and salaried officers, as well as security guards, car-park attendants and anyone else who may be at increased risk of attack by an aggressor. The Phuket TPVs carry a telescopic nightstick and all volunteers are trained in the use of this piece of equipment.
Has any Phuket TPV ever had to use their nightstick to defend themselves?
As far as I know, there has never been a single incident where the volunteer TPV felt threatened enough to draw his/her nightstick. That's not to say that such an incident might not occur in the future, and so it's a requirement for all volunteers to carry this item when on duty. However, I am pressing my superiors to authorise our volunteers to carry their nightstick in an inside pocket, easily-accessible but not visible during normal duties.
8 – Police ID card. All volunteer officers who have completed their probationary period and who are on duty must carry their police ID card, either inside a wallet such as I use, or in full view. Members of the public can request to see the ID card of any volunteer who is on duty. Probationary volunteers are not issued with ID cards, but are under the direct supervision of an experienced volunteer.
The Phuket Foreign TPV FAQ
Here are the answers to some of the common assumptions about our volunteers.
The Phuket Foreign TPVs have no police authority over foreign tourists or foreign expats.
False – The foreign TPVs are an official team within the Thai Tourist Police Division of The Royal Thai Police. They have the authority to use very specific but limited police powers over non-Thais, (either tourists or expats). Phuket Foreign TPVs have no police authority over Thai nationals, but do have authority to assist in disputes involving Thais and foreigners.
The Phuket Foreign TPVs have no power of arrest over foreign tourists or foreign expats.

True – The action of arrest is a formal procedure that can only be performed by a Thai police officer.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs have no power to detain or restrain a foreigner

False – A foreigner can be detained if they are clearly breaking Thai law, such as pickpocketing, dealing/using illegal drugs or non-payment of bar-bill, or if they are acting in an unacceptable manner, such as fighting. Detained persons will be handed over to Thai police officers at the earliest opportunity. If the person is unwilling to accompany the foreign TPV, then the minimum of necessary force can be used by the volunteer, such as arm restraint or handcuffs.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs have no training.

False – All volunteers attend regular training sessions that are presented by qualified trainers. Training sessions have included:
  • Use of handcuffs

  • Self defence

  • Restraint techniques

  • Correct saluting, attention, at ease etc

  • Traffic control and hand signals

  • CPR techniques

  • Rescue from water

  • Thai language

No background checks are made on new applicants

False – Extensive background checks are made by the Royal Thai Police.

New recruits can work from day 1 without any probationary period

False – New recruits perform an initial duty in Bangla Road in plain clothes and under the eye of an experienced volunteer. If they pass this check, then they are allowed to patrol in uniform, but only under the direct supervision of an experienced officer and they must attend the relevant training sessions. The new recruit must then work for a further three months before they are issued with their police ID card. That card will only be issued subject to a satisfactory background check and performance when on duty.

In practice, a number of aspiring Phuket TPVs fail to attain the performance grade, primarily due to:

  • Bad timekeeping

  • Laziness (failure to actively patrol)

  • 'Macho' or confrontational attitude

  • Inability to learn Thai <This makes me laugh as I have yet to meet one TPV with strong ThaiStick>

The Phuket Foreign TPVs need a Work Permit to perform their duties

True – Strictly speaking, according to Thai Labour Law, all volunteer work requires a Work Permit. This includes those performing volunteer duties with the Thai police. In practice, no Work Permits have been issued to TPVs because the relevant police commander has publically stated that foreign police volunteers do not need Work Permits. However, to ensure peace of mind, the Phuket Foreign TPVs are actively seeking to obtain Work Permits for their duties.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs have a special visa for their work.

True and False! – No special visa is required to perform volunteer work in Thailand. Most of our volunteers have visa extensions based upon marriage to a Thai national, managing a business or retirement (over 50 years of age). But for several volunteers who fall outside of these categories (including myself), there is the possibility to obtain a visa extension based on our provision of volunteer work. We are actively seeking to obtain this visa extension. It's important to note that only those volunteers who have been with the TPVs for at least 3 months may apply for this visa, and it will only be issued for a period of 90 days, with further 90-day extensions available if (and only if), the applicant continues to work as a police volunteer and if their work is to an acceptable standard).

The Phuket Foreign TPVs have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card!

False – All volunteers are subject to the same laws as for any other foreigner in Thailand. Break the rules and you will be in trouble! In fact, this is even more the case for a volunteer because they are considered to be representing HM The King when performing their duties. A breach of Thai law could result in a harsher sentence than for someone who is not a TPV.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs get free beer and sex from the Bangla bars

False! – Volunteers are not allowed to accept any free drinks, food or other gratuity, except for water, coffee and soft-drinks. Even when a free drink is provided, the volunteer must offer to pay.

You will often see our volunteers at The Pizza Co. restaurant on Bangla Road. This is our 'home-base' when on duty and the restaurant provides us with free soft drinks when we are on our breaks. Despite offering each time, I have never managed to persuade the restaurant manager to accept payment for these drinks!

Beer bars also provide us with free cold towels, which are very welcome when it's a hot night in Bangla. As for the free sex, I'm still waiting for the offer….

The Phuket Foreign TPVs drink alcohol on duty

False – It's strictly forbidden to drink alcohol whilst on duty or in uniform. Volunteers who are off-duty but still in uniform must remove their caps and cover their police shirts if they wish to drink alcohol. Police ID cards and Batman Belt must be removed. So I often have a beer after finishing my Bangla duties, but I have to wear a full-length sleeved jacket. (The reason for this 'cover-up' rule is that a tourist will not know whether a police volunteer is on duty or not).

Note that off-duty volunteers cannot intervene in any dispute where they may need access to their Batman Belt. So if a fight breaks out in the beer bar then I cannot intervene. I must summons a uniformed volunteer or Thai police officer.

Foreign TPVs are allowed to smoke on duty during their rest periods only. The police baseball cap must be removed.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs speak little or no Thai.

False – I just took a quick look at the list of Phuket TPVs and their language skills. Of the 22 active volunteers, 14 speak Thai to intermediate or fluent levels. Those who do not speak Thai follow a training program to improve their language skills.

Many of our volunteers have lived in Phuket for several years, some for several decades. Our team includes Europeans, Canadians and Asians. Several of us (myself included), can also read and write Thai. In total, our volunteers can speak 25 languages, and every volunteer carries a list of team contact telephone numbers, should they encounter a situation where they need a translator.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs are a 'Dad's Army', consisting of elderly pensioners

False – Our volunteers encompass the 25 to 65 age group. Whilst active patrol duty does require a minimum level of fitness, age is not a limitation for those who want to volunteer. Our more 'mature' volunteers work in the Tourist Police offices on Beach Road, Patong and in the Bypass road office.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs do this work because the Thai police are too lazy to do it themselves.

Mostly False In many situations involving foreign tourists or expats, there is a need to understand and speak English, or other languages. The Tourist Police recognise that many (most?) of their officers do not speak sufficient English to ably assist. Furthermore, most Thai police officers do not have the experience or cultural awareness to deal with incidents involving 'long-nosed farang'. Hence the request for longterm expats who can speak English (or other languages) to assist them with their duties.

Are the Thai police too lazy to do these duties themselves? I am sure that there is an element of truth in this claim when it's applied to specific Thai police officers. But as a whole, the Thai police (both Tourist Police and 'BiB') officers work closely and amicably with our foreign volunteers.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs are treated with disdain by Phuket expats

True and False (mostly False!) As can be judged by the previous reader submission on this website, and by the many derogatory comments on the popular web-forums, foreign TPVs (in general) are not highly regarded by expats!

I think there are a number of reasons for this attitude:

  • Some expats cannot fathom why anyone would want to help the police, whether it be as a volunteer 'Special' in the UK or as a TPV here in Thailand. 'Copper's nark' is a common accusation.

    I can counter this by saying that all countries must have rules and regulations which safeguard their citizens and visitors, and must have manpower to implement those rules. Thailand is no exception. In Phuket, use of foreign volunteers is seen as an important part of implementing those rules.

  • Some expats tar ALL police volunteers with the same brush. It's easy to point out the laziest or most 'macho' volunteer and then assume all volunteers have the same attitude.

    Please remember that we are only human! The dedication to duty and ability to perform that duty well differs for each TPV. That's why every Phuket Foreign TPV is continually monitored and assessed, to weed out and remove those volunteers who fail to perform their duties to an acceptable standard.

  • Many expats are unaware of the bigger picture, and assume that all we do is to walk up and down Bangla Road. I hope this article will go a little way to explaining about some of our 'hidden' duties and assistance.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs are treated with disdain by Phuket tourists

False – I can honestly say that I have never heard this accusation from any tourist in Phuket. Whilst working in Bangla Road, many tourists are curious and approach us with questions. The attitude from tourists (both those that we have helped and the simply curious) is extremely grateful, especially when they understand that we receive no payment or special favours for our volunteer work.

The Phuket Foreign TPVs are treated with disdain by Thais

False – It is a common accusation on the web forums that the businesses and staff in the Bangla area laugh at the antics of the Foreign TPVs. Nothing could be further from the truth! Many bars appreciate our soft-but-firm approach when dealing with difficult customers. Sometimes they may find it difficult to enlist the help of a Thai police officer who may be unwilling to come and resolve a minor incident. The bars know that we will always respond to every request for assistance.

Of course, there is always some good-natured banter from some Thais in the Bangla area. We do likewise! I certainly know that if I was attacked by several drunken Russians (or any other nationality), then I'm confident that I can absolutely count on getting assistance from Thais in Bangla Road.

So what else do you want to know about the Phuket Foreign Volunteers?

  • We operate a website at http://www.Phuket-Tourist-Police-Volunteers.com. On this website you can find more details about our duties, how to contact us and what to do if you would like to becoma a volunteer with us.

  • Several of our volunteers are on-call on a 24/7 basis, and their direct contact numbers are on our website. If you have a major problem in the middle of the night, (eg accident, arrest etc), then do not hesitate to contact one of our on-call team.

  • We designed the large map of the Bangla bar area which is located on Bangla Road, just outside of the Pizza Co. restaurant. This map lists all bars and major shops, (but I do need to update some bar names which changed ownership recently). This map can also be downloaded from our website.

  • We provide an emergency first-aid kit which is located at Bann Sukhothai hotel, just next door to the Pizza Co. restaurant. Some of our team also carry comprehensive first-aid kits in their vehicles.

To close this submission, I hope my writings and photos give you a little insight into the work of the Phuket Foreign TPVs. We welcome comment, suggestions and fair criticism.

Stickman's thoughts:

I'll let the readership form their own opinion…