On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It pays to fight crime together

LET’S give credit when credit is due. The clear drop of crime rate is certainly encouraging in the current war against crime, which is part of the Government’s transformation programme.

In January, street crimes registered a 13% drop in crime rate – that is certainly an excellent result in the National Key Results Area (NKRA).

The figures released showed that street crime for the fourth quarter of 2009 fell by 7.6% while the crime rate declined by 3.7% in the last quarter of December.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has set a targeted 20% drop in street crimes by the end of this year.

There is no question that the Government has made fighting crime a priority but the public are still frustrated. With the high profile programme announced by the Home Ministry, there will be high expectations from the people. Crime victims would certainly question the effectiveness of the war against crime and even the statistics released.

That is expected because the police still need to win back the confidence of the public by making them feel safe again.

Malaysians, especially those in the Klang Valley, used to live in neighbourhoods without having to barricade themselves.

High walls, closed circuit television (CCTV) and security guards were unheard of until just a few years ago.

Now, crime seems to have become part of dinner conversations. Even police officers have become victims of criminals, especially foreigners, who do not pick their victims –simply because they do not know their targets, nor do they care.

We are such a polite nation of people that we do not even name the nationalities of these criminals for fear we kick up a diplomatic row, and merely refer to them as “foreigners”. We prefer to keep everyone guessing.

But even as the war against crime is being waged, we need to accept certain realities – street crime such as snatch theft isn’t going to disappear.

Crime cannot be eradicated, even in the nations where extremely harsh punishments are meted out. Even in holy cities, there are petty crimes because there are unholy people everywhere.

The fact is that crime cannot be eradicated but can be managed. With a stretched police force, the police will need to focus on the areas of priority.

Fighting crime isn’t just the responsibility of the police but the public as well. In the United Kingdom, community police play a crucial role and their involvement helps to ease the burden placed on the professional police; while in Singapore, the police and civil service are part of the compulsory national service.

In the UK, the community police participate in simple crowd control and traffic control. These officers are sometimes seen cycling at airports and advising travellers. They talk to the travellers, giving them tips on protecting their belongings and instilling in them the need to be alert – which helps to prevent crime.

Along the way, their presence improves the image of the police force and more importantly, there is communication with the police.

With the active involvement of the public in these countries, that means the police would not have the problem of recruitment. Volunteerism is a crucial component of crime prevention.

Without doubt, the pressure on the police has now increased as targets have been set.

Home Ministry officials and top police brass have become accustomed to receiving text messages from Hishammuddin between 1am and 3am.

There are now more anti-crime road blocks, as opposed to traffic road blocks, in major towns now. Such efforts help to instil confidence among the public and is appreciated.

The police have also picked 50 hot spots which will have police presence, backed up by 3,000 Civil Defence and Rela members, and monitored with 500 CCTV cameras. While some may argue that CCTV does not prevent crime, it cannot be denied that it helps the police in their investigations.

But the authorities must ensure that the CCTV cameras installed are able to provide sharp images. There is a need for coordination between the various agencies to ensure the systems used are effective.

In the child abduction case of Nurin Jazlin Jaziman, the CCTV visuals were virtually useless and thus hampered police effort in resolving the case.

In Selangor, which has the highest crime rate in its cities, efforts to install CCTV in important parts have been derailed by bureaucracy.

Selangor, as the most developed state, is crucial because it has the highest migration pattern involving Malaysians and foreigners.

The Selangor state government should implement the CCTV programme in a systematic manner instead of on an ad hoc basis by the various local governments.