"Hello, how are you?" echoed around the special classroom where dozens of policemen and policewomen had assembled - as students.
It was their second class in a language course designed to boost their ability to serve when Thailand is part of the coming Asean Economic Community (AEC).
“Very soon, police will have to serve many more foreigners,” Metropolitan Police Division 4 commander Major General Naiyawat Padermchit said last week, “Our police need to be able to communicate with foreigners.”
Once the AEC materialises in 2015, people of the Asean nations will be able to travel freely across the region and so will their products. Contacts and trade activities between people in Asean are expected to increase significantly.
As a result, Naiyawat has introduced the Smart Police Social Network project, which seeks to boost police language and social-networking abilities.
The two-month language course, courtesy of Assumption University’s Abac Poll, kicked off last Tuesday.
“We focus on what is relevant to police work such as the vocabularies for crimes and traffic signs,” Abac Poll assistant-director Puntharee Israngkul na Ayudthaya said.
Pol Senior Sgt Major Niyom Soonthrawong said police usually face language barriers when dealing with foreigners.
“I believe this course is going to remove that barrier,” he said.
He works at Beung Kum police station, which is among the eight stations under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Police Division 4.
Pol Corporal Ananya Saengphu said she seized the opportunity to take the language class because she wanted to communicate better with foreigners.
“It’s so hard to give information to or to co-ordinate with foreigners,” she said.
After two hours of learning, she said she had picked up many useful English words and phrases.
The Abac Poll has provided teachers, including native speakers, to ensure police students become familiar with foreigners’ accents too.
As its name suggests, the Smart Police Social Network project seeks to encourage police to use social-networking more in their work.
“I have used LINE and encouraged my subordinates to do so too,” Naiyawat said.
He said if all eight stations under his jurisdiction adopted the LINE (free communications app) in sharing crime information, it would be easier for police to track down culprits.
Naiyawat said if the Metropolitan Police Division 4 received any confirmed tip-off about an emergency, it would immediately dispatch its assault squads to the scene.
“We have four-member squads and 30-member squads,” he said.
Naiyawat was convinced that social-networking would become a vibrant channel in communicat?ing with the public, given that an increasing number of people now carried smart phones and had become members of social networks.
Pol Senior Sgt Major Sombat Namchaisri, who has been in charge of the Hua Mark police station’s Facebook project, disclosed that its fanpage had more than one-million views and thousands of supporters.
It was an overwhelming response given that this Facebook page has existed for only a little over a year.
“We started it in May last year,” he said.
Naiyawat said this Facebook page had efficiently facilitated communications between police and local people, and allowed the Hua Mark police station to get many useful tip-offs.
Sombat said the success of such a Facebook fanpage had been a major reason why the Smart Police Social Network project operates today.