Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Not too long ago, The Star frontpaged a report on falling street crime figures that was celebrated by the government, but met with much skepticism by the public. Subsequent well-publicised snatch thefts and mall carpark robberies had the government scrambling to respond, while deepening the public sense that the numbers are a sham.

I don't like dismissing government statistics out of hand; I think reflexively rubbishing the numbers is both excessively pessimistic and rather unreasonable. Still, street crime figures, to me, tell another story, and not just because of the many tales from victims turned away from lodging police reports.

It will take a concerted effort, and a lot of time, for Malaysian trust in the police, and thus belief in their safety, to improve

Before I get into that, I'm going to comment briefly on public perceptions of their safety. The reason much of the public doesn't buy the figures is simple: there is, at present, an immense crisis of trust with Malaysian law enforcement. The aforementioned tales play a part, as do the stories of corruption, violence against suspects in custody and lack of frequent patrols in many urban areas. But remedying this will take more than just responding to those complaints, and a very long time indeed, so in the foreseeable future, Malaysians will be more pessimistic about their safety than the numbers make reasonable to be.

Moving to the main thrust of the piece: what else do street crime figures tell us? I will give the government and the police some credit for the fall in street crimes, but then, they only tell part of the story. Street crimes are, after all, committed mainly by youth, out of need. As the Malaysian economy grows, I believe it is more likely that crime will move into the shadows, out of the public eye. I speak, of course, about organized crime, international syndicate activity and corporate crime.

Does the government have the gumption to stand up to the vested interests that profit from corporate crime?

Malaysia's international record on people and drug smuggling has to improve significantly, and it doesn't appear that government policy focuses adequately on corporate crime. Enforcement of laws on the latter issue are fragmented among five different agencies; meanwhile, Malaysia remains a Tier 2 nation on the US State Department's human trafficking watch list.

As the nation's per capita income continues to grow (and hopefully more inclusively than at present), socioeconomic improvement means less people will turn to street crime to get by. However, it also means a bigger lure for, shall we say, more professional crime. This simple fact means the nation needs to ask itself two questions. The first is this: Will the government be able to shift its resources and focus to the latter?

Over time, more crime will move out of dark alleys, and into the gilded halls of wealthy and ruthless syndicates.
The second question? Will Malaysians continue to press their government on crime once it fades into the shadows?

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