M’sians on crime alert

Many are turning to private security to keep homes safe

By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times

WHEN Mr Peter Raiappan's neighbours started getting robbed in broad daylight, he decided that something must be done. He got them to organise private security for their Medan Damansara neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur, and initiated a dialogue with the police.

The 66-year-old retired civil servant is now working to have the security guards on duty round the clock, and has obtained City Hall's approval to restrict access to their housing estate. 'Things have improved now,' he said.

Mr Raiappan's neighbours are not the only ones hiring their own guards. Worries about crime have driven up demand for private security, with the result that new housing developments are nearly always gated.

And old ones are following suit. The 10-year-old Ara Damansara township in Petaling Jaya has installed surveillance cameras on its streets, and set up a police post for its 2,500 households.

The irresistible conclusion is that Malaysians do not feel safe, a view shared by 97 per cent of respondents to a poll on the Home Ministry website.

The government had in the past sought to assure the public that Malaysia's crime rate is low relative to that of Japan and Hong Kong. Dramatic cases may have skewed perception, it argued. But, as sociologist Denison Jayasooria noted, 'perceived or real, people do not feel safe'.

The government has now changed tack, especially as crime figures are going up: from 150,000 cases reported each year from 2000 to 2004, to 211,000 last year. About 90 per cent of these are property crimes, and 10 per cent violent crimes.

Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang and Johor are especially hard-hit. These densely populated centres are also particularly vulnerable to street crimes such as snatch thefts and muggings, accounting for just over 70 per cent of the national total.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to cut down the incidence of street crime by 20 per cent by next year. To do so, the government plans to have another 60,000 policemen on the streets over the next few years, and has also started co-opting the volunteer police corps, Rela, to beef up the numbers.

More surveillance cameras will be installed, patrols will be stepped up and policemen given new and better equipment. The government also plans to set up a tribunal to expedite the hearing of cases.

The government also plans to set up a tribunal to expedite the hearing of cases.

Many Malaysians blame the influx of migrant labour for the rise in lawlessness but police statistics show that only 1 to 3 per cent of crimes are committed by foreigners.

Kamal Affendi Hashim, an exco member of the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation, believes that increased public awareness and the ease of lodging police reports could be partly behind the rise in crime statistics.

Both he and Dr Jayasooria agree that in order to better fight crime, the government has to dig deeper into its causes.

Dr Jayasooria believes that one significant factor is urban poverty. Indian youth gangs, he noted, arose partly because many of those who used to live in plantations drifted to the cities in search of jobs.

“A lot of crime has to do with the lack of employment opportunities,” he said.

“Many unemployed or under-employed youths live in the cities, and drugs and gangs are a problem.”

One solution is to review Malaysia’s anti-poverty programmes: Most are targeted at rural folk even though more than 60 per cent of Malaysians now live in cities and towns.