Crime prevention is not a stand-alone business

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Having a new police department with glossy offices does not open the door for solutions to crime prevention. More thoughtful brainstorming on tackling the root causes is needed instead, says Nicholas Chan.

Police move in at the vigil in Petaling Jaya to mark 50 years of the ISA on 1 August 2010 - Photo courtesy of sayaanakbangsamalaysia.net
Poor use of resources: Police move in on an anti-ISA vigil – Photo courtesy of sayaanakbangsamalaysia.net

With the elections out of the way, the Malaysian public is thankfully rid of the public spates and spades as well as the promises and rhetoric to get back to their daily lives.

A life whereby we have to literally take care of ourselves instead of relying on the grandiose assurances of politicians. We ought to. Looking over our shoulders is no longer an act of paranoia. Not during a time where you have armed robberies of restaurants and eateries happening back to back, not unlike the series of cases that had happened recently in Kuala Lumpur leaving patrons of restaurants terrorised, robbed and some even beaten up.

With the media ever eager to highlight this seemingly descent into lawlessness, and politicians not afraid to flare up emotions, plus the never-ending sharing of anecdotes of crime in social media, it would appear that Lim Kit Siang’s accusation of Johor Bahru as the “capital of crime” no longer applies. Malaysia by large is turning into a sprawling Sin City. At least that is what the citizens think, as revealed by a nationwide survey conducted by International Islamic University Malaysia’s (IIUM) Communication Department.

Crime has become the number one concern of Malaysians, even surpassing the economy. In other words, we are more afraid of losing our money to burglars and bandits rather than losing our means to earn it.

As usual, for all the pertinent issues in the country, everyone would sprint to offer their solutions or fingers for pointing. Solutions indeed are expected when we have just ushered in the dynamic duo of a new Home Minister and Inspector General of Police (IGP). Khalid Abu Bakar, the new IGP, is fast to nab headlines by saying that a Crime Prevention Department would be set up at federal, state and district levels to plan and implement crime prevention strategies, leaving the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to focus solely on investigation work.

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police-out-on-patrolPutting aside the argument on whether the strategy would work or not, if the opening of a new department is intended to accommodate the intake of more police officers, the IGP is definitely getting the wrong picture. As calculated by the data provided by Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong on the total number of policemen in Malaysia in 2011, we can easily see that our police to population ratio is 1:270, not a great deviation from Interpol’s recommended 1:250.

This indicates that expanding the number of policemen doesn’t matter that much; it would be more productive if we smartly restructure our police force into a crime-fighting focused force. It was previously revealed that only 9 percent of its man power is scheduled under the CID while 86 per cent is involved in non-crime-related areas (Management, Internal Security and Public Order) .

It would be utterly misleading to say that the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) was not doing any job of crime prevention prior to this. At Bukit Aman, the CID is primarily tasked with the duty of crime prevention, although narcotics has their own crime prevention programme (drug addicts will most likely end up as criminals due to their social fallout and the need for money to finance their addiction). The Special Branch, CID and Narcotics each have their own intelligence department, which is also vital in the prevention of crime. At the state and district levels, individual police stations have their own patrol police and crime prevention strategies.

At the governmental level, reducing crime is also a national key results area (NKRA) under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP). In the first phase of implementation, nine key initiatives have been rolled out, including the omnipresence programme for the police, better safety features in cities and more cases brought to prosecution.

With the Home Ministry taking charge of the reducing crime NKRA, we should hypotheticallyhave a consolidated but integrated crime prevention programme, much like the proposed Crime Prevention Department. Sceptics, however, will argue that it is not right to have direct government intervention in what is supposed to be the duty of the police.

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Either way, the much needed results are not forthcoming. The programmes have claimed that crime is on the downturn, but the public begs to differ and more victims beg for safety.

This is expected as initiatives like the omnipresence of police and high-profile policing is just a mockery of the intelligence of criminals, as police should be watching the criminals rather than being in plain sight of the criminals.

It is obvious by now that having an integrated and concerted effort in battling crime will not work as long as the right policing strategies are not implemented. So where do we start then?

First and foremost, make the police accountable by having them to at least release statistics of crime twice a year, a practice that has been stopped since the GTP kicked in in 2010. The GTP report only differentiates crime as Index Crime and Street Crime, unlike other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, where a dissection of every type of crime is made, with their numbers, localities and rate according to population, diligently and accountably reported to the public.

Why is dissecting the types of crime important? Because the modus operandi (MO) is. The MO is useful in that it not just identifies likely repeated offenders, it could also highlight why people commit crime that way – is it because of environmental conditions? Is it because of socio-economic factors? Are there elements of syndicated crime involved?

Lastly, crime would have to be mapped out – via street-level mapping – to identify hotspots, the likely number of offenders, vulnerable specific times of the day and the radius of activity of these suspects. This would also supplement intelligence gathering activities so that effective and specific measures can be implemented to arrest and prosecute these offenders, as well as improve the safety conditions of the identified hot spots.

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Crime mapping is a huge undertaking, one that requires multitudes of trained personnel, meticulous data gathering, and high inter-departmental collaboration. It is questionable that setting up a new department, or to a larger extent, having a highly centralised police force, would make the task easier.

Perhaps we should rethink the organisational structure of our police. No doubt that as affected by macro socio-economic factors, crime occurrence in Malaysia, especially street crimes, still tend to be a localised issue. Perhaps the alternative of having autonomous territorial or state-level police forces ala the United Kingdom and Australia would be more appropriate in tackling the current plunder by the lawless.

Unlike what we are led to believe, crime has never been just a manifestation of bad policing. It takes shape from a culmination of social, cultural, economic and sometimes even political factors. It would not be logical to segregate crime prevention into a standalone business for the police, as the entire government machinery should be engaged to tackle the problem holistically. The New York City Police, the Singapore Police Force and the Metropolitan Police Service of London certainly did not see fit to establish their own separate Crime Prevention Department.

Crime investigation and prosecution should always work hand in hand with crime prevention. Therefore, having a new branch for crime prevention under the CID would be a more viable option.

Setting up new bodies seems to be the inevitable but routine strategy for problem-solving in Malaysia, underlining the state of denial, by the current crop of police leaders and Home Ministry officials, of their failure in addressing the issue effectively and creatively.

Crime might seem to be an act of crass and savage, but it always requires the most intellectual of solutions. Having a new department with glossy offices does not exactly open the door for solutions; more thoughtful research and brainstorming does.

Nicholas Chan is a socio-political research analyst at Penang Institute. A forensic scientist by education, he believes there is a truth in everything and it all depends on whether we want to see it or not.

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