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Thai police too macho for Hello Kitty armbands

I always found it hard to imagine Thai policemen wearing Hello Kitty armbands as a mark of shame for wayward officers.

Evidently most policemen did too, because Thailand's top cops decided Friday to abandon the idea.

It seems there was a rebellion in the macho ranks, as well as outrage on Hello Kitty Web sites.

Yasushi Ukigaya / AP
A police officer in Bangkok showed off the Hello Kitty armband that was going to be a used as a disciplinary measure on Monday. The police have since abandoned the idea.  

"You have to understand that it's embarrassing for our 30- to 40-year-old policemen to be made to wear this girly, pink armband," conceded police Maj. Weeraprach Wongrat, of the Crime Suppression Division, whose idea it was in the first place.

"It also attracted so much attention – a lot of praise, but a lot of criticism," he said Friday. The Thai police found themselves blasted by Hello Kitty lovers for using their cute icon as a means of punishment.

"We are concerned about the image of police as much as that of Hello Kitty," Weeraprach said. "We decided to drop the plan."

He said they would be looking at other designs.

That plan had been to order offending policemen – and most police officers here are men – to wear a pink armband with a Hello Kitty face and a pair of linked hearts as a disciplinary measure – if the officer was late to work, parks in the wrong place or left his desk while on duty.

"It was meant to be a moral armband for our police," said Weeraprach, "to teach them not to overlook minor mistakes. The armband reminded them that they were being watched." A mark of humiliation, in other words.

But now it is Weeraprach who is a little humiliated.

The Crime Suppression Division has a new commander, Weeraprach's boss, who trained with the American Secret Service and the Canadian police, and who has pledged to modernize a force that has been accused of widespread corruption and extrajudicial killings.

The new commander is said to be a believer in behavioral science and in the "broken window theory," according to which small changes can have large effects. He saw pink armbands as a start. Now it's back to the drawing board.