In my last article on “Crime prevention is a better option”, I received many positive and constructive comments.
However, someone said the article is academic and wondered if crime is actually reducing. At ground level, he does not feel and see the effects of it.
The above comments in many ways encapsulate what I have been saying about the crime statistics and the fear of crime since I started to write about crime.
The two are related but they are not correlated – meaning a reduction in crime will not bring down the fear of crime.
You may view the “Dugong story” by stand-up comedian Kavin Jay at www.unitedagainstcrime.my
The crime index has progressively come down since 2010 by as much as 40%.
These statistics are verifiable and the basis has been consistent for the last 35 years. So surely the crime reduction and prevention efforts must be working. But why isn’t it being felt on the ground?
The fear of crime is still high and hence people still doubt that the crime rate has decreased.
Let me share a few stories on the crime prevention and reduction efforts, their challenges and the effects on the fear of crime.
The first is regarding CCTVs, where we tend to focus on the downstream process rather than the upstream process.
As mentioned in my last article “Crime prevention is a better option”, the downstream process refers to the criminal justice system – the process of investigating, apprehending and prosecuting criminals.
The upstream process refers to the crime prevention initiatives to ensure people are safe and feel safe.
I met some resident associations and they insisted that Mr Government must put CCTV inside their residential areas.
So I asked why do you need a CCTV? The answer was that “in the event of house break-in, we can easily identify the perpetrator”.
The emphasis is on catching the perpetrator after the crime has happened (the downstream process) rather than preventing it.
We should use CCTV with a monitoring control system to deter crime (upstream) and if crime happens, then we use the CCTV for the images to catch the perpetrator (downstream).
Research in Australia has shown that increasing arrests has short-term benefits but does not prevent crime in the long run.
This means we should really move upstream; as one commentator has said, “look at the causes” and ways to prevent crime from happening in the first place.
This is indeed a tough challenge.
I would like to relate a second story on how difficult the upstream process is when it involves more than one agency.
I live in a very quiet residential area with a dead end road just outside the gated community.
Lately, there were lorries carrying earth from the nearby river using the dead-end road adjacent to our housing area, turning the place into a massive quarry area.
The dead end has a gate as the area beyond it is private land with foreign security personnel.
The lorries cause pollution, with the area becoming very dusty especially in the hot weather and have made the roads dirty.
People who used to cycle or take walks in the evening are now reluctant to do so.
As the roads are not built for heavy vehicles, we have already seen potholes and damage to the roads.
Recently, the municipal council resurfaced the road – this cost taxpayers’ money. The lorries are posing a health as well as safety hazard.
Our quality of life was compromised due to the noise and dust pollution.
The residents complained to the municipal council. The officers came twice and took pictures but nothing happened.
They complained to the police too as gangsters came forcing the gate to be opened for the lorries to pass through.
The police came to check the lorries, the lorries stopped for a day and then resumed.
It is very difficult for the authorities to nab these people as they have a “TONTO” agent.
TONTO is the informer who obtains protection money from the contractor or business owners. TONTO stands for “Tolong Orang & Tipu Orang”.
The authorities are trying their best but the people operating the quarry and the lorries are defiant.
I saw an article in The Star on Aug 3 where the “lori hantu” (overloaded logging trucks) in Sarawak were still operating despite the installation of height barriers and other initiatives by the authorities.
The overloaded trucks are damaging public infrastructure and endangering travellers.
Similarly to the residents in my area, it is a crime but enforcement is a challenge as there is no single or lead agency to effectively stop them.
We have a lot of rules written for issuing licenses, but they are not easily enforceable.
In terms of enforcement, we have the following agencies involved: Road Transport Department, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board, and the municipal council.
But who is actually tasked to stop these irresponsible heavy lorries causing pollution and road damage, and endangering residents’ safety? I am sure what we experienced is not uncommon.
Enforcing the rules and regulations is not as simple as leaving it to the police alone. Enforcement is a multi agency effort although in theory the police have the primary responsibility.
They need the support from other agencies, and a proper SOP (standard operating procedure) in place.
Crime can only be prevented and reduced through better coordination and cooperation among all agencies.
In this case, how can we strengthen the upstream process to prevent these irresponsible operators from perpetrating disorder?
Perhaps it could be stipulated in the quarry license that the quarry operator should be responsible for ensuring the roads and the neighbourhood are not adversely affected. This may be more effective than going after the individual lorry operators.
Not being able to enforce the law especially when TONTO are involved leaves the residents with a fear of crime – they feel unsafe and lose confidence in the authorities.
Law and order is not just about catching offenders – it is also about maintaining safety and security.
We need both the upstream and downstream processes to work in concert – the upstream to prevent crime and ensure safety, and the downstream to catch the perpetrators when crime happens and ensure security.
Not addressing the total crime process (both upstream and downstream) means it will not be easy for us to reduce the fear of crime.
In crime, we always talk about safety and security. Safety refers to actions taken to prevent crime from happening and to keep people safe and feel safe.
For instance, establishing a “WhatsApp Neighbourhood Watch” is a crime prevention initiative to keep members alert, prevent crime and make people feel safe.
Security refers to actions to protect people and property from injury or loss by deliberate actions from people – like having gated security.
In the CCTV story, we should use the CCTVs to prevent crime to keep the area safe rather than to catch perpetrators.
The residents then will ensure that the CCTVs are prominent enough to warn would-be perpetrators that they are being watched.
Instead of “looking in”, the CCTV systems would be “looking out” as eyes on public places and would be properly monitored.
When the community works together with the authorities as in the case of the lorries on the residential roads and the “lori hantu”, they highlight disorder and intervene to minimise unlawful behaviour.
The residents’ association acts as a cohesive group to impose some form of social control to prevent crime from happening in their area and reduces the fear of crime to some extent.
The fear of crime is undeniable regardless of the successes in bringing down crime. They are due to the media, the signals and cues we see around us, our confidence in venturing out and the quality of the service delivery by the police.
The fear is contagious and it distorts the reality of crime on the ground. It is good to view the “Dugong story” at www.unitedagainstcrime.com.my
To reduce the subjective feeling of “unsafe” or “lack of order” in the environment, we do need the authorities to do consistent enforcement.
Each agency is working within its own silo.
For them to be more effective, they need to break the vertical silos and have a SOP between them.
As mentioned, we need to address both the upstream and downstream processes to prevent crime, reduce crime and the fear of crime.
For the authorities, it is a multi agency effort and an ongoing exercise. As individuals and as a community, let us get on board and help prevent crime from happening.
Datuk Dr Amin Khan is Director of Pemandu’s Reducing Crime NKRA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here are entirely his own.