Why police are impotent in dealing with growing crime

Dr Lim Teck Ghee

A few days ago a colleague sent me a copy of an email which read:

Though the government is denying it, we are seeing severe escalation of serious crime in the country. At lunch today, I learnt from a member of [respectable organization] that the xxxxxx Embassy is now holding briefings on crime and precautions. There is also a recent entry of some [foreign] crime groups. We are all living in fear….Most people would agree that the current crime rate is the worst we have ever seen. When victims lodge police report, often police will refuse the report as it affects their KPI.

There is a witticism which states that “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”.

A reminder of the close proximity between statistics and damn lies should be sent to Pemandu, the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department which has staunchly defended statistics showing street crime has fallen by 40 percent in the past two years. According to Pemandu too, the country’s crime index fell by more than 10% between January and May this year – a claim which has drawn hoots of derision from readers in the internet media.

It is a fact that Malaysians are cynical of the statistics put out by the government. Although the government has been at pains to argue that there is a declining trend in crime, the man in the street does not believe the government. The average Ali, Siva and Chong is even more agitated when the government blames the issue of escalating crime on public perception and blown-up media accounts.

The truth is that our government friendly media are underreporting rather than over-reporting on crime and violence. Let’s be frank and admit that the official statistics on crime, especially petty crime, are unreliable.

Unlike the statistics collected by the Department of Statistics, police statistics are generated by front line personnel who have a vested interest in underreporting. Everyone knows that police personnel have every incentive to avoid extra work through understating crime incidence. They also do not want to give a bad name to the police district if they can help it. Under-recording of actual cases of crime is very much the norm in most police stations.

No need to argue with the public

It is difficult for the government to convince Malaysians that the police statistics are believable since there is no way the public can monitor how the statistics are generated or processed.

If we go by neighbourhood and other grassroots accounts, it appears as if episodes of house break-in, handbag snatching, armed robbery and other criminal acts have become commonplace instead of being the exception.

Rather than trying to argue with the public on crime statistics, it is more prudent for the government to acknowledge the surge in criminal activity, especially of petty crime and to take strong measures to prevent it from getting worse.
How to combat growing crime

Amongst necessary measures, these should have priority:

1. Instilling a greater sense of responsibility and urgency in the police top brass on tackling crime. Trying to defend the police or deflect legitimate criticism is the wrong approach.

2. Requiring that a greater proportion of police personnel be assigned to work on the beat instead of at the office.

3. Adopting William Bratton’s policing philosophy. This veteran police officer who is advisor to the British Prime Minister David Cameron on law and order is an advocate of the ‘broken window’ criminological theory of the norm setting effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behaviour. The theory which has been well backed by empirical research argues that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition stops further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

4. Bratton is also a strong advocate of having an ethnically diverse police force representative of the population; maintaining a strong relationship with the law-abiding population; tackling police corruption; being tough on gangs and having a strict no tolerance of anti-social behaviour.

All of these are commonsense measures aimed at instilling a higher degree of professionalism and requiring our police and urban authorities to focus on protecting the public from criminals. They should be implemented without further delay.

Tackling police impotency at the roots

We also have to tackle the problem of an ineffective police force – the Special Brach may be a lone exception – at its roots. In the past, these root causes may have something to do with small size of the force and poor pay. Today they are unacceptable as reasons to explain the relative inefficiency or impotency of the police.

According to United Nations survey, the Malaysia police force is a very large one compared with other countries at similar stages of development. The United Nations recommends a minimum police strength of 222 per 100,000 people. Our number is much higher than this. In 2000, we reported having 354 police per 100,000 people. By comparison in 2007, Singapore had 239 police officers per 100,000 people.

As for poor pay leading to demoralized personnel, police salaries have recently gone up considerably for all ranks of personnel. Our police today cannot by any measure be considered to be underpaid.

The root causes of police impotency are found in at least two major factors. This description of crime and industrialization in Britain is instructive.

“Crime was rising due to dislocation and poverty and the apparatus of criminal justice was …increasingly ineffective. During the period 1805-1842 the proportion of people per 100,000 of the population committed for trial rose 7 times. This is of course what we should expect: rapid urbanisation with people uprooted from their traditional rural ways of life and forced into the intolerable poverty and overcrowding of the early factory towns. These festering conditions were exacerbated by the fluctuations in the labour market and the fact that workers were periodically thrown out of work without any social security or unemployment benefits….”

For us in Malaysia, the ‘broken window’ theory and the interaction of marginalized immigrant and local poor communities and rising inequality between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ amidst visible affluence provide the breeding ground for breaking rules and anti-social behaviour.

Effete social policies, tolerance of white-collar and high-level crime, and widespread uncivil behaviour of the general population also provide our underclass the justification for their attempts to subvert the system.

Our situation compares poorly with Singapore where there is zero tolerance of corruption in the police and civil service, the ordinary citizen is socialized (some would argue, regimented) to higher standards of civic norms, and ‘broken windows’ are mended unlike in Kuala Lumpur where not only the backstreets but also the main streets are littered with garbage, unrepaired pavements and other visible symptoms of urban decay and the indifference of the authorities.

Perhaps the most important root cause is the trend towards the political use of the police. Instead of focusing attention on fighting crime, our police are all too often ordered to perform political work aimed at suppressing the opposition and other opponents of the ruling government.

This politicization of the police force has become worse, with the recent massive police mobilization for the Bersih 3.0 demonstration serving as a prime example.

Potential election game changer

The government must recognize that the growing incidence of crime has political ramifications.

The more the government engages in spinning the crime statistics, the more it denies there are major problems with our police force, the more it orders the police to take political sides; the more the government is alienating itself from the public and inviting an electoral backlash.

It will be poetic justice if the politicization of our police force is one of the factors responsible for the Barisan Nasional’s downfall.

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Monday, 23 July 2012 - 10:13 pm

    As I said a few days ago, the DJs on TRAXX FM Radio (Merry, DD, Scum Boy, Dumb Head, 1Singh etc) confirms daily on live radio that ‘our streets are no longer safe anymore’. They then proceed to give their ‘advice’ as to how to avoid getting mugged, bullied, stabbed, walloped etc etc. What more confirmation do you want when they confidently and authoritatively tell the whole nation the ugly situation and reality. They are doing us all a favour. The police appears hapless on this as they are focused on the alleged ‘Communist and JI threats’.

  2. #2 by sheriff singh on Monday, 23 July 2012 - 10:19 pm

    ‘When victims lodge police report, often police will refuse the report as it affects their KPI.’

    Right. Right. The Police must henceforth refuse to take down the hundreds of frivolous reports lodged by NGOs and other fruscos against Ambiga, Bersih 3.0, Anwar, PR leaders etc etc. These reports must surely affect their KPIs.

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Monday, 23 July 2012 - 10:31 pm

    Wow!! Even the North Korean Embassy is worried !

  4. #4 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 6:47 am

    Police are impotent in dealing with growing crime because they have got their priority wrong. They protect Umno/BN more than the rakyat and country.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 7:12 am

    The shortcoming of police enforcement – and their politicization- is undoubtedly an important but it is not the only factor to blame on the rising crime phenomenon.
    On this broken windows criminological theory -ie that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime- S’pore has natural advantage of a small place to keep under micro-surveillance. They got all the money and expertise to set up and monitor an extensive net work of high tech CCTV cameras everywhere. A street lamp may turn out to be a police video surveillance camera that swivels 360 degrees, tilts, pans, and zooms in close enough to read a number plate, a thug’s mug, a bulging pocket of concealed weapon, a direction of escape. You break a law on one street, and they could catch you several streets farther. That’s a police state lah!

  6. #6 by drngsc on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 8:05 am

    It is no longer PDRM but PUM, Police Umno Malaysia.

    Enough is enough. Time for change. Another check and balance corrupted by UMNO

    We must change the tenant at Putrajaya. GE 13 is coming. First to Hari Raya, then to Bersih 4.0, then to GE 13, then to Putrajaya.

    Change we must. Change we can. Change we will.

    Let us save Malaysia from UMNO

  7. #7 by Winston on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 8:43 am

    Isn’t this the safest country in the world?
    With the MSM under the control of their political masters, crime was almost completely wiped out in these news tabloids.
    But they flourish in reality.
    Then a recent burgeoning of crimes of all types were reported in these MSM.
    Perhaps, their reporters are in open rebellion?
    They, as well as their friends and kin have been lulled into a sense of false security.
    Until they become the victims of criminal acts.
    Some time ago, a few Mexicans were arrested in this country for drug smuggling.
    This is a very ominous sign.
    Perhaps they know that this country with its corrupted to the core Federal Government is fertile ground for their drug organisations and ripe for the picking!
    And once they set down their roots here, we are all finished!!!
    For those who are knowledgeable about what the drug cartels are doing there, they will be very disturbed indeed.
    They are in the process of taking over Mexico.
    And nobody can stand in their way.
    So, all Malaysians must redouble all efforts to kick out the UMNO/BN government.
    No ifs and no buts.
    The only alternative is oblivion for us all.

  8. #8 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 9:32 am

    Crime level in the country has turned so bad that I suspect even if jib himself got tied up, beaten and then robbed by some indons or banglas the IGP would still be totally powerless to arrest the worsening situation (let alone reversing it). Its out of our control now. And it would take great resolve and a long time for pakatan to clear up the mess. You see umno has, over the last 30-40 yrs, actively encouraged the infiltration of foreigners (esp those from poor and very poor countries) into malaysia. Now amongst every 10 of us there is a foreigner. This figure of course is much much worse when illegal ones are taken into account. In other words, umno has successfully created a very severe security concern for the country. That is why crime rate in the country has gone on a free fall.

    It is true that while one can never really keep rats out of one’s home, one can certainly attract rats by turning one’s home into a smelly rubbish dump. That is what umno has done to malaysia. And the effort is paying because we are now a global centre for many criminal activities.

    Well done.

    Jib jib 1boleh.
    Ros ros 1cantik!

  9. #9 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 11:07 am

    In my neighbourhood, we have two major police station within less than a km. The petty crime like snatched thieves has reduced (but traffic is way up and we not walking as much even for exercise) but the violent and serious crime is definitely up and everytime it happens, and it gets more serious each time, more people gets more worked up about it and rightly so..

  10. #10 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 12:38 pm

    Now the people had no choice but to take on the task of policing their own neighbourhood with their own effort and money. As if this is not bad enough, umno is absolutely determined to push the people further. So soon the people will be pursuing and prosecuting criminals through their own effort and with their money.

    Jib jib 1boleh.
    Ros ros 1cantik!

  11. #11 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 12:48 pm

    Is Rukun Tetangga dead? Maybe we might need a Daytime Rukun Tetangga ?

    So what is the 3 million RELA people recruited for? Directing traffic during public events ? Anything else? Sure a lot of people recruited and a lot of money paid to them.

  12. #12 by Cinapek on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 1:14 pm

    :…Effete social policies, tolerance of white-collar and high-level crime, and widespread uncivil behaviour of the general population also provide our underclass the justification for their attempts to subvert the system. …”

    This is the root cause.

    In the 50 years of BN rule, the systematic destruction of once hallowed institutions and the social structure of its society has led to where we are today. The escalating crimes we see are but a manifestation of the widespread failures of the institutions which led in turn to the erosion of values of its people to the extent that there is a growing segment of the citizens who views committing a crime as a far less serious matter. In short, they have become desensitized.

    The police and their impotency is merely a small reflection of the larger picture of a failed state. Take a simple thing like transport. Over a space of two consecutive days last week I drove in both the city centres of KL and Singapore. KL was a total nightmare. In Singapore it was a breeze and a joy to drive. It was not just the heavy traffic but also the way the roads were built and the traffic flow were planned. When I asked an experienced traffic expert in Singapore (whose hometown was KL) why he did not offer his services to help resolve KL’s traffic woes his answer was KL is a hopeless case.

    When you have a senior SB officer and a former IGP making allegations that the terrorist or communist has infiltrated our political parties without offering one shred of evidence, we can see how badly top police officers themselves has disregarded the rule of law. IF indeed such threats exist, why have the police not acted and detained and charged those people? So, can we blame the mata-mata on the streets for their impotency?

    Many years ago, the National Integrity Committee went around the country collecting feedback on the deteriorating crime situation. The IPCMC was proposed. The IGP then (Tan Sri Musa) talked of huge recruitments, more patrols, new beat bases, sending desk officers to the streets, blah, blah, blah. And where are we now? Talking of the same crap.

  13. #13 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 2:20 pm

    Police impotent? why not?

    After all, High Court judge says the Home Minister is tainted with irrationality.

    I always thought so too.

  14. #14 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 5:55 pm

    They are potent only at watching porno and hiding behind bush to catch minor traffic offenders. Other than that no difference with the people sitting in putridjaya.

  15. #15 by raven77 on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 - 11:58 pm

    Chef Idris Jala has created an alphabet soup that is now caused a massive diarrhea among Malaysians….this guy should have been sacked ages ago…

    Commonsense and civility are the least taught in Malaysian schools …its all about 10As when you step into a Malaysian school..

    Its a broken Malaysia heading towards disintegration…

  16. #16 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 - 9:01 am

    The police are restrained from doing their normal jib but to concentrate on political issue: a sure sign that the power has read the sign from heaven!

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