There is a gap between the reality of crime and public perception.
I HAVE been in the Pemandu NKRA Crime team for a year now. The subject of crime is not only interesting, but can be controversial too.
It is an interesting conversation topic with both the authorities and the public, as both tend to have different views.
Let me begin my story on crime and the fear of crime. I will be sharing a few articles on crime, this being the first one. My intent is to share the knowledge that I have gathered from this NKRA journey and to put things in perspective for the readers.
I believe there are four things that we normally chat about in the coffee shop and at certain forums. The four items are the level of crime, the fear of crime, the feeling of safety and the confidence in the criminal justice system.
Crime is generally measured as the volume of crime in a given area. In our NKRA Crime, we measure crime using the crime index. The crime index comprises property theft and violent crime. It does not cover commercial crime, drug-related business crime and cyber crime.
We set a target to reduce the crime index by 5% every year for the last five years. Last year, we achieved 12.6% reduction – well above the target.
Since we started the transformation on the NKRA Crime five years ago, we achieved a reduction of 40% from the 2009 level. About 80% of the index is on property theft (including vehicle theft) and 20% is on violent crime.
This seems to be consistent with other countries. The reduction in crime index over the last five years is shown in Figure 1.
In summary, we have reduced the volume of crime from 580 crimes per day in 2009 to 350 crimes per day in 2014. Car theft (which is also part of the crime index) came down by 20% for the first time since 2009.
Prior to this, one car was lost every 30 minutes – that means about 17,000 cars per annum. In a developed country down south, they lost one car every 10 minutes.
The reduction of the crime index by 40% is a big achievement. The setback is that the general public does not feel that crime has actually reduced and our fear of crime is still high.
Frost & Sullivan did a survey last year asking the public what they thought of the level of crime over the last three years. Easily 50% of those surveyed said the crime index went up and another 40% said the level remained constant over the three years. Only 10% of the public got it right in that the crime index came down over the last three years.
We were initially puzzled. Then we realised it is the same pattern as compared to many developed countries.
There is a gap between the reality of the crime index and public perception of the index. We call this the “reality-perception” gap (Figure 2) and this is because the public tends to overstate the risks relating to crime.
The perception is the actual ruler that the public uses in the way they see crime in their environment. There are two components to this – the fear of crime and the feeling of being unsafe in the environment.
Fear of crime is actually the fear of possibly being a victim of a crime, whereas the feeling of being unsafe is the general feeling of being unsafe and not necessarily that the person will be a victim. Research shows we are worried on both components.
However, there is a significant difference between men and ladies on the two components. Ladies pay more attention to the general feeling of being unsafe and have higher fear of crime compared to men.
What it means is that ladies are more risk adverse to a risky environment. Risky environment is best described by the signals we get from the environment – meaning if the place is poorly lit at night, then it is risky to walk in that area.
I realised people generally do not believe me when I said the level of crime came down over the last few years. The numbers are from the recorded crimes.
We can debate over the crime index but it does not distort the crime index trend line over the years. It is still very much a downward trend line.
We should not spend our energy totally on the completeness of the crime index. Instead we should look at this ruler together with the perception ruler used by the public to gauge their fear of crime and the general feeling of being unsafe, and we should find ways to reduce both.
Going forward, we decided to combine the two components of fear of crime and the general feeling of being unsafe into a “crime perception indicator” or CPI. The construction of this CPI will be explained in the subsequent article.
As in the movie The Croods, the father tends to fear everything outside the cave and wants to keep the family in the cave. The daughter wants to venture outside the cave and complains about the kind of life they are having.
It is important for us to have our desired quality of life and we should minimise our fear of crime. The authorities cannot be fighting crime and the fear of crime alone.
We must view this as a shared responsibility. We, the public, you and I, and the police must be united in fighting and bringing down crime and the fear of crime.
The crime index can never be zeroised and neither can the fear of crime. As a citizen, I am encouraged by the efforts taken to mitigate both crime and the fear of crime.
It is never enough and more needs to be done. What is important is that more is being done. Please come on board and help steer the course with your views and suggestions.
Datuk Dr Amin Khan is Director of Pemandu’s Reducing Crime NKRA. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are entirely his own. A short video on the different views of crime is available at https://www.youtube.com/c/gtproadmap/
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.