Fighting crime in the Digital Age

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 14 Jul 2019

Technology has changed almost everything, even the face of crime. According to Penang’s top cop, the state’s once notorious triads are also going online to conduct their ‘businesses’. There is some good that comes with this though – fewer turf wars and gang fights. 

HAVING served the force for 34 years, Penang police chief Commis­sioner Datuk T. Narenasagaran (pic) is set to retire in March next year.

An Ipoh boy who can speak several languages, including Thai and Cantonese, Narenasagaran rose from the rank-and-file, starting out as a cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1985.

He was instrumental in the development of the Forensic Department when he was the CID deputy director (Forensic) in Bukit Aman.

He also served in Negri Sembilan before as the deputy police chief.

His list of academic qualifications include MSc (Forensic) from Strathclyde University, Scotland, and a Chemistry degree from Universiti Malaya.

In an interview with Sunday Star, Comm Narenasagaran spoke at length about the constraints faced by the police in fighting the drug menace in Penang. He also touched on how technology has changed the face of crime, including Penang’s once notorious triads.

Q: Organised crime was quite random here in Penang in the past, but their activities look quite restrained now. Are the triads still a threat?

A: A lot has changed now on how secret societies do their business. They were very territorial in nature in those days, but not so much now. Today, things have changed, and the dynamics of doing business have also changed. Social media also played its role as the people now can gain access to news faster. And with laws like the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) and the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca), the number of triad members has been reduced vastly. In this IT era, the new generation has found different ways of making money without having to use force. The menace of the gangs has also dropped drastically over the years. The crime index shows that gangland activities are not there anymore.

Q: But the advancement in technology has also brought a different type of threat – cyber crime such as online gambling, ah long, prostitution and money scams. How are the police dealing with these issues?

A: We still handle an average of 12 to 15 cases of various crimes daily. Online gambling is “faceless” and anybody can run a network with just a smart phone or laptop. But then again, many of the syndicates thrive due to people’s greed and the need to make a fast buck. We have been keeping a close watch on the activities of these syndicates and monitoring their movement. But we can’t act unless people come and report them to us. Some of the scammers are foreigners. They would come here as tourists and conduct their “businesses” in hotels through WeChat. We can only charge or deport them if we can find enough evidence. We must be careful as tourists bring in revenue for the government and we can take action only if a crime has been committed. We can’t tell the government what type of tourists are the “good” ones. With facilities such as visa on arrival (VOA), it’s very easy for the foreign syndicates to come here to carry out their illegal activities.

Q: Do you get enough support from the local authorities and other government agencies?

A: We can tell the authorities to reduce or stop issuing liquor, entertainment or gambling licences. But here, we have so many foreign tourists who would like to go to such places. When the police conduct raids, it’s regarded as “subtle harassment” as we also need to look at the views of the local businessmen. We need the cooperation of all, including all relevant agencies. However, we also need the people to cooperate with us by saying “no” to illegal gambling, or money-lending activities. By doing so, the menace will slowly die. We will take a tough stand against the syndicates and put a stop to all the illegal activities.

Q: Is there a need to change the police’s standard operating procedure (SOP), so that you can expect better results?

A: We are still operating on three layers, the officer in charge of police station (OCS), officer in charge of police district (OCPD) and the Chief Police Officer (CPO), who is the “royal blood” in the force. As the highest ranking officer, the buck stops with me. We work with 60 to 100 men and the OCS and OCPDs will be the crux of the entire force in Penang. They will glean information and intelligence with support from other departments for joint operations against illegal activities. Public support is of utmost importance. We can’t do it alone. The ratio speaks for itself where there is one policeman for 2,600 people. It is certainly an arduous task. We have certain tools such as the facial recognition system which can be used to identify repeat offenders.

Prosecuting and getting them off the streets and reducing the ability of the syndicates will go a long way in making Penang a safer place.

Q: Over the last two years, there have been major drug hauls running into millions of ringgit. Are we winning the battle against this scourge?

A: I agree that there has been a spike in drug cases here as Penang has always been a transit point for drug syndicates. Most of the drugs taken here to be processed are from the Golden Triangle. The supply is mainly by air or land, although we are still investigating if there is any that comes through the sea. We have had limited success due to a shortage of manpower. That’s why sometimes you see Bukit Aman anti-narcotics teams carrying out raids in Penang. We work with them in joint operations.

Q: Is the reason the police here had limited success in the drug war because you don’t have a pro-active team for surveillance and intelligence to uncover the major drug rings?

A: Yes, we have limitations, and again it’s the issue of manpower. We don’t have the people to do stakeouts or surveillance. Sometimes, we have to rely on tip-offs from the public. We also don’t have the resources to do profiling of the drugs which is vital to see where it originated from. For this, we need a special unit. However, what we learnt is that most of the drugs here are for local consumption (in Malaysia) and not for the international market. As such, we will continue to monitor the drug rings with the help of Bukit Aman.

Q: Why is it that you haven’t had much success in apprehending the kingpins behind the drug operations? Are they getting any protection from rogue policemen?

A: The public always thinks that traffickers are being protected by the police, which is not true. More than 99% of the police force are hard working people and passionate about their jobs. Many of them don’t have a life outside the force. I can’t remember how many times I have broken my promise to have dinner with my wife due to work commitments.

The policemen involved in getting the intelligence would become close to certain people in the drug trade to get information from them. Sometimes, it could be misconstrued as being associated to the syndicates. Having said that, of course, the lure of illicit money could get the better of some. As the IGP said, we will not hesitate to take action against “bad apples”.

Q: Is there any new approach you would like to implement to fight crime?

A: I understand that there are some people who have complained that the police are slow in their investigation of certain crimes.

Please remember that the investigating officer (IO) could have about four cases to probe in one day, and yours could be the fifth. You have to be patient and wait for him to see you. But sometimes, the victims may not have the patience as his house had just been broken into or his car stolen.

As such, we have implemented a system where police officers would go to the house of the complainant to record his statement. It would be much more conducive and the IO could ask the question in a more relaxed atmosphere. They are told to carry a laptop and a portable printer for this task.

Probably later, the OCs can call up the complainant and tell him that his report has been investigated and the police have increased patrols in the area as a precautionary measure. This will make everyone feel at ease and safe knowing that the police are doing something to solve any crime cases. All this is part of community policing and hopefully, whoever takes over from me will continue to do this.

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