CRIMINAL activities are terrifying because they threaten the well-being and security of society, especially its most vulnerable members, including children, women, and the elderly.
What is even worse is the element of surprise. A crime can strike anytime, any place – at moments least expected.
The scariest scenario is getting robbed, assaulted, or even killed in our own homes.
Crime – big or small – is the dark side of human society. There has never been a period in human history that people are totally free from crime.
Various methods have been devised to fight crime such as instilling religious and moral values and introducing crime-preventation programmes. Still, criminal tendencies and behaviours persist.
Crimes can take many forms, from the theft of a bar of chocolate at a supermarket, to malfeasance and misconduct in high places, not forgetting drug abuse, rape, cheating, street snatching and mugging, human exploitation, cruelty in using personal authority or physical strength against weaker people and bullying in schools and, not infrequently, at the workplace as well, among a host of others.
The most effective way to keep crime at bay is through law enforcement. Societies the world over have a police force, an armed authority set up by the government, to prevent and combat crime.
The crime rate in a country is related to a number of factors, the most common of which, according to most criminologists, are the economic situation of a country and the quality of crimefighters in place.
Desparation can drive people to commit crime – usually out of necessity. Hence the saying, necessity knows no law.
When the poverty-stricken do not have enough to eat, they are likely to steal or rob to survive. Indeed, hunger makes a thief of any man.
As Aristotle said, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
Obviously, in fighting crime, the less efficient the law enforcement, the more rampant the crime. There is a lot of sense in the saying that he who allows indifference and inefficiency to rule shares the crime.
Fear of crime
According to Sarawak Community Policing Association (SCPA) chairman Datuk John Lau, it was reported in the media in 2016 that 61 per cent of Malaysians were actually living in fear of crime.
This was despite a decrease in the crime rate – from 782 in 2007 to 287 in 2016. Although there was 63 per cent drop over a period of 10 years, fear still lingered in the citizens’ hearts.
Lau said several factors could foster the fear of crime. He described one as the “feel of an environment” – like the sight of physical disorderliness as manifested by poorly maintained public places, lack of proper lighting, and unslightly abandoned buildings.
Buildings isolated from the view of one another do make people edgy because they tend to think – rightly or otherwise – sinister elements could be hiding in these places.
Another fear factor, Lau noted, is experiencing the frequency of coming across people who may be behaving suspiciously or seeing youths loitering aimlessly and behaving in an anti-social manner.
Giving an example, he said in Kuching, one of the things that made people feel uneasy was the sight of youngsters, wearing heavily tinted helmet screens, riding around randomly on motorcycles.
“This causes concern because it’s the typical profile of snatch thieves.”
According to Lau, the fact that police presence was rarely felt could give rise to the feeling of insecurity, especially at places where people have heard – even just once – of crimes being committed there.
Moreover, crimes, frequently reported in the media, including information on criminal activities being shared on social media, could make people feel nervous and insecure as well.
Lau also pointed out that crime stories spread through word of mouth had a tendency to spread fear among people who heard them.
However, he felt that crime-associated angts in Kuching had diminished somewhat over the past five years, attributing the improved situation to the good environment where the layout of most public places and the construction of buildings were quite orderly.
Lau said this was due to the state government’s effective oversight of the implementation process and he gave credit to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing for its outstanding strategic city planning.
Lau carried out a survey in Kuching recently to gauge public views on the present rate of crime compared to five years ago.
The survey was to enable Lau, a PhD candidate of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), to write an article on ‘Citizen perception of fear of crime in Kuching’ for the Asia Journal of Criminology as a requirement for his PhD pursuit.
He found that more than 80 per cent of Kuching residents believe the incidence of crime has gone down and they now feel this city is a “fairly safe place” to live.
According to police statistics, 570 crimes were reported in 2012 compared to only 227 crime rate in 2017.
This was a drop of over 60 per cent, Lau said, adding that the improvement could be due to the constant patrols and swift actions by the police as well as SCPA keep watch efforts in and around residential areas of Kuching.
From the police records he obtained, Lau came up with a graph to illustrate the crime-rate drop in Kuching – from 680 in 2010 to 227 in 2017, a dip of 66.6 per cent or that the crime rate in 2017 was only one-third of 2010.
He said the public generally felt it was the visible police presence that caused the drop, at the same time not ruling out SCPA patrolling services as a possible contributing factor.
He revealed there were SCPA members serving in 52 housing estates and most of the residents agreed the association’s joint efforts with the police had played a significant role in making the housing estates safer.
“Crime happens in the community, so when members of the community act as the eyes and ears of the police, it follows that the crime rate will drop,” he said, adding that the police-SCPA partnership has proven very effective in this respect.
Lau also found some 40 per cent of the respondents were more worried about vehicle thefts, while the biggest fear among roughly 30 per cent was house break-ins.
He said the former was confirmed by police information he obtained, showing there was an increase in stolen vehicles over the past several years.
However, only some 19.3 per cent of the population in Kuching is really fearful of crime, according to Lau’s estimate.
This, he believed, is largely due to the good police-citizen rapport, availability of community policing, the state’s sound economy and, of course, good governance.