Oh, dear!

JUST TWO COPS: Last year, I visited a town called Kingscote in Kangaroo Island where it is the done thing to leave the ignition key in the car in case anyone should need to borrow it. There are just two policemen at this police station in the town enjoying the lowest crime rate in Australia. Perhaps, that is utopia.

A LITTLE girl hurt her finger. She ran to her daddy who was a preacher.

Engrossed in his studies, he just took a look and said: “Oh, that will be all right.” Then he sent her away.

The little girl ran to her mother, weeping. Her mother asked: “Oh, dear, does it hurt so much?”

The little girl answered: “No, mummy – it’s just that daddy didn’t even say Oh, dear.”

Had the same magical “Oh, dear” from Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein on Thursday swept away some of the not-so-good-feelings on the rising crime rate that had been building up tension lately?

The minister pledged to address public perception on crime, saying it is “all important.”

He added: “For me, what is most important is not so much the crime index. The perception and the feeling of the public is all important.

“We have achieved a lot but if it does not include the expected reduction in the feeling of fear by the public, then more needs to be done and we will do it.”

It is rare to have leaders sympathising with us, sharing our headaches and heartaches, and calming our fears – in essence, someone who says “Oh, dear” to us.

Some years back, I was walking alone in a backlane of Petaling Street after enjoying a peaceful Christmas musical at Wesley Methodist Church in Kuala Lumpur. Suddenly, out of the shadows, a man emerged and stood right in front of me.

For a moment, time frooze with the man’s fierce eyes fixated on me. At knifepoint, I gave him the only RM50 tucked in my jeans. He grabbed the note and disappeared into the dark.

With other travelling companions choosing to go on a shopping spree, I decided I should just tuck my blackberry, a RM50 note and my identify card inside my jeans pocket while making my way to the musical, knowing full well I would be using a dark lane in a rather shabby area. Perhaps, I was “prepared” for such an encounter as I was calm throughout the whole ordeal.

On another occasion, I was walking back to the hotel after work. Little did I know a motorcyclist was tailing me, obviously looking for an opportunity to snatch my shoulder bag. A phone call from
a colleague saved me.

The motorcyclist with a pillion rider sped past but they missed my bag as I had lowered it while trying to get to the ringing phone. I could so easily have fallen and got dragged along the road had the snatchers managed to grab hold of my shoulder bag.

Unlike the dark lane episode though, I was not prepared for this close shave and for many months, I lived in fear and through many nightmares.

My next personal brush with criminality was as a witness to a kidnap case in my hometown. As the case is still on-going in the High Court, I shall leave this story out.

With two narrow escapes and as a witness to an abduction case – not to mention exposure to so many crime stories everyday in the course of my work – how safe do I feel?

Honestly, I was not particularly thrilled to hear from Datuk Seri Idris Jala in person that street crime and index crime had gone down by 35 per cent and 15 per cent respectively – the highest since Independence.

These numbers are as exciting and challenging as detective stories – even more so, if they turn out to be a bit far-fetched at the end of the day. Indeed, indexes, like detective stories, are often filled with half-truths and hidden secrets, depending on how you interpret them.

Reading and interpreting indexes are certainly an exciting way of challenging us to a mystery hunt.

It did not amuse me either how the Prime Minister unravelled the mystery behind the reduction in crime rate. Most people still perceive crime to be rampant.

The Prime Minister said this was due to easy access to information via the social media and the Internet which reported crime incidents immediately.

“If previously, not many people would know if a crime occurred, today it can become viral and reported based on real time. That is why the crime situation is considered worrying.

“When we say crime is on the decline, people question this based on what they read on the Internet,” he said.

The indexes do not take away the fear of the people – neither does the Prime Minister’s take on public perception vis-à-vis the reduction of crime rate which is reminiscient of the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand.

The fact remains that we live in constant fear of criminals.

I don’t like having to walk back to my car on my own. And I also balk at the prospect of having to walk past vacant lots or parks.

And lately, I don’t feel safe while enjoying my plate of kampua mee at my favourite coffeeshop, given the scale of criminality.

With that “Oh dear” from Hishammuddin still fresh in mind, I asked Commissioner of Police Sarawak Datuk Acryl Sani Abdullah this week: “The Home Minister has identified the cause of fear of the general public and said he would be doing something about it. What are the ways to achieve this?”

He answered: “My dear Phyllis, you are living in a world with a very unrealistic concept that you are dreaming up.”

Just as the busy preacher sent his daughter away, likewise the CP sent me away, saying there is no utopia on Earth.

I stepped out of CP’s office and was greeted by a guard just as I had entered.

As I walked past the heavily-guarded police headquarters gate, I remembered what Dato’ Dr Sir Peter Mooney, in his reminiscences as a crown counsel in Borneo in the 1950’s, wrote: “It was hardly necessary to close windows or doors at night. Theft was almost unknown. There was no army and none was required. The police force was small and had no need to be larger.”

Like Peter Mooney, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced a small part of it during my young days.

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