HOME Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi jolted the nation when he estimated recently that there are 260,000 criminals on the loose in our midst.
If that is true, then we are in big trouble because the number given is more than double that of our police force.
Compounding the situation are claims that only 14.2 per cent of the police force are directly involved in dealing with criminal activities.
This reminds me of the famous quotation attributed to James Lovell, leader of Apollo 13 on a NASA mission to the moon on April 14, 1970, when he reported a major fault to base: “Houston we have a problem…”
Our nation too has a problem now and we have been calling “headquarters” for some time, fretting over daily shootings, gang wars, extortions, robberies, snatch thefts and smuggling. In a nutshell, an unnerving rising crime rate.
When NASA received the alarm from Lovell, the support team at the Space Centre went into overdrive, trying to solve the problem, but in our society, the expression of grave concern over the spiralling crimes of violence is a signal to start the blame game and score political points.
It seems whenever we are faced with a crisis, the first reaction among our politicians is to blame the situation on someone and start an orgy of finger pointing while the wound is left to fester.
The opposition blame the Barisan Nasional (BN) for the rise in crime rate and an impotent police force while the BN blames the opposition for blocking the enactment of preventive laws despite the fact that abolition of the Emergency Ordinance has led to the release of hardcore criminals and the purported rise in violent crimes as a result.
While everyone is analysing the situation and coming up with reasons, arguments and suggestions to curb the soaring crime rate, the criminals are carrying on their merry ways.
All these debates on the course of action to counter the rising tide of violent crimes is painting the government into a corner in its search for a solution.
The most obvious remedy is to reintroduce preventive laws to detain the hardcore criminals and keep them out of mischief but that would be a serious backward step for the nation’s standing on human rights.
On the other hand, should we allow crime to flourish in the name of liberalisation and human rights?
The opposition’s stand against the reintroduction of preventive laws is that there are already enough laws in the country to keep criminals in check.
What is needed, they argue, is an increase in the number of police personnel and an improvement in their efficiency in combatting crime.
These is very sound reasoning, indeed, except for the fact that catching criminals is only half the job done. The other half is convicting hardcore criminals who belong to gangs and the underworld. This is far more difficult and most of the time, impossible to achieve.
Sarawak’s police chief Datuk Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani hit the nail on the head in a recent interview when he said, indeed, there were enough laws in the country to bring criminals to book but almost all the time, gang members, caught by the police, were let off the hook because the court could not convict them.
This is due to the fact that nobody dared to testify against members of organised crimes for fear of reprisals.
Not even the best police force in the world could guarantee the safety of witnesses against revenge from criminal organisations.
This is the strongest argument for bringing back preventive laws. While we can cry from the top of the hills on human rights, we cannot deny that for everything, there is a price.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad said recently the price of liberalism is the daily shootings we are witnessing.
While his point is debatable, we cannot deny that violent crimes rose in tandem with the lifting of the EO and the release of hardcore criminals from detention.
Is there a middle way to solve this vexing dilemma we are facing? The answer is out there somewhere but to find it, we need to cast our political differences aside and put our heads together.
This search must be a bipartisan effort and politicians must stop using this issue to score points.
Whatever solution we can come up with will not be perfect but something has to be done soon before our nation descends into anarchy.