Police reform, not perception management to combat crime

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Refusal to implement urgent police reforms would be highly irresponsible as it would continue exposing the public to the threat of crime at home and on the streets, writes Wong Chin Huat.

Activist Wong Chin Huat - victim of street crime

As a victim of street crime, I find the statement by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein that dismisses the rising crime rate as “a matter of perception” deplorable and offensive. He is adding insult to the injury to those of us who have suffered physical harm, psychological trauma and property loss in crimes. As a matter of fact, Madam Teoh Soo Kim, 51, is still in induced coma after surviving her abduction at Bukit Jalil last Wednesday.

Hishammuddin’s dismissive attitude shows a serious disconnect between the government and the public on security. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If we get mugged when jogging in our neighbourhood or get abducted in fake accidents, then no statistics in the National Key Result Area (NKRA) or other alphabet soups can convince us that we are safe.

A responsible Home Minister should work to introduce structural reforms to the police force rather than thinking about perception management. What needs to be corrected is not our perception but how the police are organised.

As of 2010, while we had 106079 police personnel, giving us an impressive ratio of 1 police personnel to 270 citizens, 53323 or 51 per cent of them were located in the management (core and non-core) and logistic (non-core) units. In addition, 5102 were staffed at the Special Branch and 14551 at the General Operations Force, formed to combat communist insurgents in jungle operations. Specifically, only 9335 or 9 per cent were in the Crime Investigation Department (CID) and 4184 or 4 per cent in the Narcotics and Special Task Force.

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To prevent more people suffering like Madam Teoh, me and countless others, I urge the Home Minister to initiate structural reforms to the police force:

  • Allocate more police personnel to the CID and other core units rather than to the Special Branch, the increasingly obsolete General Operations Force or the non-core units.
  • In the longer run, decentralise the police force to have
    • federal police force in charge of human-trafficking, drug-trafficking, terrorist attacks and other major and cross-border crimes; and
    • state police forces which are accountable to state governments and in collaboration with the federal police force.

Decentralisation would allow for more locally-sensitive and responsive allocation of resources for policing need.

  • As an immediate step, approve requests by state governments like Selangor to establish auxiliary police units throughout the state, not just “being prepared to discuss this”. It defies all senses that local governments are not allowed to pay to provide extra security to the residents, when some private companies can have such forces. Adequate auxiliary police forces would have saved many residents the extra money paid for having gated or guarded communities.

Refusal to implement these reforms would be highly irresponsible as it would continue exposing us to the threat of crimes at home and on the streets. It would also undermine the image of the police force, which would have done a better job if it is more effectively organised and commanded.

11 June 2012

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Chief David Couper
13 Jun 2012 1.47am

If you are serious about improving your police you will take a look at my new book, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.” You can also visit my blog “improvingpolice” at wordpress.com where I take on a lot of the issues plaguing our nation’s police and their slow path to improvement. It’s not that police cannot be improved. They can. But it takes deliberation and persistence. My book will help.