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Fighting crime

Snatch theft warning sign, vandalised so both victim and robber say hello to each other
Vandalised sign in Kuala Lumpur warning readers against becoming the next snatch theft victim
(© Kubhaer Jethwani / Flickr)

ONE night in April 2009, Hazwan Haili was out for drinks with friends in the Masjid India area of downtown Kuala Lumpur.

“As I was walking back to my car I was rushed by two guys with tinted helmets,” Hazwan, a stage performer in his early 20s, tells The Nut Graph. “One of them was holding a knife, and they asked for my wallet and handphone.” The motorcyclists took Hazwan’s money and cell phone, discarded his wallet, then fled. According to Hazwan, the entire episode lasted less than two minutes.

“Before, you’d only hear of women being victims of snatch theft and mugging. But now KL is not safe for anybody,” Hazwan says.

Crime rates soaring

It isn’t just men these days who are being targeted in the alarming rise in crime rate. In an interview with weekly internet programme The Fairly Current Show, Taman Tun Dr Ismail community organiser Hatim Abdullah revealed that his neighbourhood was considering setting up guard posts to blockade entrances to the middle-class suburb.

Indeed, National House Buyers Association (HBA) honorary secretary-general Chang Kim Loong announced that communities were becoming increasingly gated and guarded. They would continue to be that way, he said, until the government “assures us that it is safe to walk the streets”.

Chang was speaking at a roundtable discussion, convened by DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and chaired by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament on 28 July 2009. The discussion was titled “A new inspector-general of police (IGP) for a safe Malaysia“. It hosted views from opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the need for reform and better leadership within the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM).

In a statement announcing the roundtable discussion, Lim revealed that the PDRM — under IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan’s leadership — had failed to meet all three of its core functions, as identified by the 2005 Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police.

Photoshopped image -- Musa Hassan's picture on a dartboard, three darts made of DAP arrows
Lim Kit Siang states the PDRM has failed in its three core functions
(Musa Hassan pic © Ridzuan Aziz / Wiki Commons)

“To keep crime low, eradicate corruption, and uphold human rights — Musa failed in every one of them!” Lim exclaimed.

According to the 2005 Royal Commission report, there was a total of 156,455 reported incidents of crime in 2004 — a steep increase from the 1997 figure of 121,176 cases. A 575-person survey then conducted by the Royal Commission demonstrated “widespread concern among all ethnic groups and foreign residents”.

“Between 82.2% and 90% of the respondents, or eight to nine persons in every ten, were concerned with the occurrence of crime,” the report said.

This figure is strikingly similar to the findings of a recent survey, conducted on the Home Ministry website. As of 6pm on 26 July 2009, 97% of 6,678 respondents felt that they were not safe, due to the high rate of crime.

In fact, the total reported cases of crime in 2008 was a whopping 211,648 — a 35.5% increase from 2004’s total.

Govt action or inaction?

Recognising this unfortunate surge, on 27 July 2009, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that the government wanted to reduce street crime by 20% before the end of 2010. Planned measures include the strengthening of auxiliary bodies such as the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela), and the installation of additional closed circuit television cameras (CCTVs).

But what would these measures result in? Rather than keeping us safe, they could very well end up endangering Malaysians more. Rela, after all, has acquired a reputation in recent decades for human rights abuses, especially towards immigrant populations.

Speaking at the 28 July roundtable, Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Dr Lim Teik Ghee cautioned that he was sure that Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein would work hard towards fulfilling the government’s new targets — at any cost. “I’m worried that there will be major violations of human rights to bring about better security,” Lim said.

Instead of debating the government’s stop-gap crime-fighting measures, all roundtable speakers agreed that wider reforms of the police force were needed.

The public’s growing deep distrust of law enforcement may be due to the perception that the police are not impartial tools of the Barisan Nasional government. Indeed, the police force does appear partial to serving the interest of the BN — from its role in the Perak takeover to the arbitrary arrest of Malaysians peacefully protesting against the BN.

Most recently, on 27 July evening, police officers even prevented a screening of the film Gadoh at Kg Buah Pala, Penang. They did this on the grounds that the local residents association had organised an “illegal gathering”, and because the movie was “controversial”.

Misplaced priorities

Suaram coordinator Tah Moon Hui, addressing the roundtable, zeroed in on the amount of officers working in the police Special Branch “to spy on Malaysian citizens”.

“Their allocation of [personnel] is wrong,” Tah stressed. “If (these Special Branch officers) were reallocated to fight crime, I’m sure crime rates would fall.”

Potential victim glaring at now-frightened robber
Japanese poster seems to suggest hostility
to frighten potential snatch thieves
(© Andrew Scott / Flickr)

“After 52 years as a sovereign parliamentary democracy, the time has come for the Malaysian police to … embrace democratic policing, to protect the people and not the regime in power,” DAP’s Lim said.

Also in the equation is the perception that police officers themselves are connected to the criminal underworld. Former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim reminded the roundtable of Deputy Internal Security Minister Mohd Johari Baharum‘s allegation that Musa had taken bribes from gangsters.

“If Johari’s accusations (in 2007) were irresponsible, sack him,” Zaid said. “But Johari is still deputy minister. And there has been no investigation into Musa.”

Acting with impunity

Whatever the truth in those allegations, it is obvious that the police acts with impunity, without vital instruments of oversight such as the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) in place. The setting-up of the IPCMC was one of the resolutions the parliamentary roundtable unanimously agreed upon.

However, the political will to improve the state of Malaysian law enforcement is sorely lacking. The IPCMC, a recommendation of the 2005 Royal Commission, was discarded by the BN-lead government in favour of the relatively toothless Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission. And, even though they were invited, no BN parliamentarians appeared at the parliamentary roundtable.

Dr Hatta Ramli, speaking on behalf of PAS at the roundtable, suggested that Najib’s announcement on crime prevention was tantamount to “a vote of no confidence to the IGP”, since it was an indirect admission of the police’s incompetence.

If that is true, however, why hasn’t the government publicly censured Musa for the force’s abject failure under his leadership? In fact, signs indicate the exact opposite: while the police chief’s tenure ends in September this year, the Police Force Commission is rumoured to have recommended Musa for reappointment.

“Why are we seeking the extension of someone who should have resigned long ago?” asked lawyer Haris Ibrahim at the roundtable. “It almost seems that the government is being held to ransom by Musa.”

people waving placards saying 'kita mahu IPCMC ditubuhkan'
Protestors demanding for IPCMC on the day of A Kugan’s funeral

G Manivannan, president of the Concerned Youth Movement, tells The Nut Graph that young Malaysians were inclined to believe that — beyond the fact that they could not curb crime — the police are active agents of wrongdoing.

“For example, look at the deaths in police custody,” Manivannan, who also spoke at the roundtable, says. He cites tragedies such as that which befell A Kugan earlier this year.

“It is happening in their own place, but they don’t want to be accountable,” Manivannan adds. “Nowadays we wouldn’t feel safe standing next to a police officer.” Favicon

See also:
Six Words On…Police

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10 Responses to “Fighting crime”

  1. raguel says:

    Even if [we] change [the] IGP, increase police salary 100 times, the culture of corruption will persist. Must change government and its 50-year-old culture of —–

  2. Taneug says:

    For many years no president in the US could remove Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. Reason: he had a thick file on nearly everyone in Capitol Hill, including, of course, the president. Hence, the staying power of police chiefs.

  3. armstrong says:

    What Najib is planning to do with Rela, to deploy them as another [bullying] agent is similar to Iran. Iran has its Iranian army and they have another volunteer group that goes around hitting people and clamping down on peaceful demonstrations.

    Since in Malaysia, by default, we can’t deploy soldiers to help the Umno-led government to stay in power, the next alternative is to give Rela power to do what they want in return [for] protecting the Umno-led government. We should just dissolve Rela […]. If Rela [needs to] share the same responsibilities with the police in battling crime, it means one thing, the police have failed. It’s high time for IGP to step down.

  4. pak yeh says:

    We must hartal/boycott the police by setting up our own police.


  5. tanyoongfatt says:

    Before Najib became PM, there were concerns that his purported link with the woman who cannot be named would be used by foreign interests to blackmail him. My belief is that it was incorrect…..about the foreign part.

  6. Lenaloe says:

    It is sad though; about the state of our country, where the police have become little more than the government’s lapdog.

  7. Nicholas Aw says:

    Just mark my word; all the “barking” will not stop the IGP’s contract [from being] extended. The government will say that his services are badly needed to manage the police force; as if the Deputy IGP cannot be promoted to handle the job.

    I would tend to agree with Taneug’s inferred comment that Musa probably has a hold on the top guns in the government. Otherwise, why was Internal Security Minister Mohd Johari Baharum’s allegation that Musa had taken bribes from gangsters not acted upon? Either way, one of them should have been dismissed.

    In fact, not renewing Musa’s contract would help to neutralise the people’s negative perception of the police and in a way allow the incoming IGP to repair the dented image of the force.

  8. Shaji Rajappan says:

    My wife was mugged in a car park by two guys wearing helmets. We lodged a report with the police and you know how these things work – they say there isn’t much they can do, etc.

    Then we lodged a report with the car park management company, only to learn that several people had been robbed and mugged there previously, and also this…a middle- aged man was tied up and left near his car after being robbed in broad daylight! So there, nothing surprises me anymore.

    When did it all come it this?

  9. eagle says:

    The police say they cannot do much when motorcyclist snatches someone’s bag and drives away. That is why Najib has to call the Rela men to chase them until their pants come down. Rela men though not trained, are more forceful and they are tough guys as they don’t need a warrant to arrest someone, or ask you to open your door. Rela men have immunity from the law, so they are better than police and they are cheaper to employ.

  10. QC says:

    One of the problems with the crime statistics reported in this country is that the rate of unreported crimes is not indicated. When the crime rate leaps, the actual leap and increase in number of crimes MUST be assumed to be higher in Malaysia because statistics on unreported crimes is kept out of the discussion. And a great deal of petty crime (or street crime) goes unreported these days. Snatch thefts and petty theft reports are actively discouraged by the police who don’t see the need to deal with these problems. Indeed, it is possible to get a new IC without a police report if you are the victim of a snatch theft. Just pay the fine!

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