Why police are impotent: A response to PDRM

Dr Lim Teck Ghee

I thank the Polis Diraja Malaysia for the response to my commentary on why the police are impotent in fighting rising crime in the country.

Massaging of official statistics and reports

Firstly, with regard to the lengthy explanation on how the crime count statistics are generated, whilst the information is quite useful, it does not make a convincing case that the crime rate has dropped dramatically during the past three years.

I am sure that the police leadership – as with the ordinary man in the street – is aware that police reports generated through the official reporting system considerably understate the actual incidence of crime.

Furthermore, methodologies, definitions and categorizations vary from year to year.  These changes, together with other forms of ‘massaging’ (authorized and unauthorized) are the most likely explanations as to why there has been such a sharp fall in the reported crime statistics in the past three years as compared with 2008.

With regard to the auditing of crime statistics and the commissioning of the public opinion survey on perceptions of safety and confidence in the police force, it will be important for the police to make available through its own website or in the Pemandu website the full and unabridged audit and survey reports as Pemandu’s responsibility apparently is to ensure that crime data are available, transparent and reliable.  

Such a measure will help members of the public ascertain the quality and validity of the work done by these commissioned organization. It is well known that auditors and commissioned survey organizations will fudge and do a less than professional or honest job, especially on sensitive, lucrative or renewable assignments.

Growing disbelief in official police data

Many credible stakeholders have emerged to throw cold water on the crime reduction statistics. No less a figure than the former Inspector General of Police, Musa Hassan (he was IGP until 2010) has commented that “the public needs to know the truth, there is no need to hide when it comes to crime’. 

Besides taking into serious account the views of knowledgeable insiders such as Musa Hassan, the police should study various reports – including those produced by foreign governments and embassies with interests in the country – on rising crime in Malaysia. These are easily available through Google’s search engine.

Also accessible are the commentaries on the crime situation and public response in the internet media. In this respect, IGP Ismail Omar’s recent appeal calling on the public not to rely on social media for crime data is a sorry reflection of the delusion in the police leadership on the credibility of “reliable and certified” official sources. 

Malaysians do not trust the establishment mass media for good reason. The IGP’s statement – “[W]hy must we release data that can picture Malaysia as a country that is not safe? I hope such irresponsible reports will not be released on social media” – will simply reinforce the public’s distrust of the reporting and statistics on crime carried by the establishment media and compel them to rely on less prejudiced alternatives.

In fact, the police leadership will be doing themselves and the public a favour if they study carefully the many articles and hundreds of suggestions from concerned citizens on how to deal with the growing crime menace.

Many of these comments in websites such as Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysia Chronicle, Malaysia Today, Malaysian Mirror and others are based on personal experience and reflect a deeply alienated and demoralized public. The recent three-part series by Malaysiakini reporter Aidila Razak, for example, provides a useful overview of some of the main concerns.

Translation of this public feedback from the social media into Bahasa Malaysia and made available to all police personnel through the police base notice boards on a regular basis will ensure that the police force can better understand the reasons for public concern on police performance.   

If such feedback is still to be disbelieved, why then the extraordinary growth of the personal security related industry and the mushrooming of thousands of private security-manned gated communities. They certainly do not point to a lessening public concern for personal security or of greater confidence in the police as indicated by Pemandu or PDRM commissioned surveys or audits.

They are clear evidence of the worsening crime situation.

Police political partisanship: Overdue reform  

My commentary had also pointed to the politicization and partisanship of the police force – leadership really – as one of the root causes for its impotency. I can understand why no attempt was made in PDRM’s official response to rebut or refute this argument.

The latest reminder of how the police are being used by the ruling government to serve its political ends comes from ACP Mohd Sofian Md Makinuddin, during his talk to the Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association recently, in which he said:

“Now we are facing the threats of certain quarters who hide behind NGOs and use religion, race and society as their tools to influence the people”.

Further, he described ‘LGBT culture’ and ‘street demonstrations’ as ‘negative cultures’ by ‘extremist groups’.

By acting as a mouth piece of the Home Affairs Minister (earlier, he had also claimed that the Malaysian opposition party was being infiltrated by terrorists) Mohd Sofian has further undermined the police force’s claim to political impartiality and neutrality.

Most Malaysians recognize the great difficulty of the police force in its attempt to break away from the stranglehold of partisan politics. However, to ignore this factor or to be silent on it would be a mistake especially since the public are not easily duped by the argument that the police are acting impartially and independently. It is imperative that within the police force, there should be a separate and standalone discussion of this issue which is long overdue for reform.     

Politics aside, the great majority of Malaysians want a police force that is fair, trustworthy, efficient and effective. They will surely support the police in whatever it takes to reduce crime in the country.  

That support – and respect – has to be earned the hard way. It cannot come from brandishing what in all probability are misleading statistics but by the redoubling of efforts to fight crime and to protect life and property; and by resistance to government attempts to use the police as its political lackey.