Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Getting passionate about crime | theSundaily

Posted on 30 August 2012 - 03:20am
K.K. Tan

THE debate on crime is getting rather "passionate" but the discourse may have missed some wider points and how to make the public feel safer.

Crime is an emotional topic and it's not like an economic issue where you can try to reason using cold statistics, especially with the victims, witnesses, their relatives and friends. Many people have already formed their own perception about crime based on personal experience and those of friends and relatives, and from messages forwarded over the internet. They are not going to change their views quickly with some facts and figures showing an improvement.

They are more interested to know what the law enforcement agencies are doing to assure them that the situation is really under control or improving. They are also keen to know how their personal safety and security will be better taken care of.

The police have been quick to respond to crime in Klang Valley shopping malls, especially the car parks and the press has been reporting on their positive efforts.

The perception of rising violent crime and an increasingly unsafe world is not a local problem but a global one. The spate of gunmen going on a rampage in the US does not mean that safety there is that bad, but the press has a responsibility to play up such incidents to alert the public to be more careful. It is up to the government and law enforcement leaders to figure out ways to respond with constructive measures to assure a fearful public.

No one should tell the press not to play up high profile cases such as those involving kidnapping and murder. All over the world, sex and crime sell, and the press here is only allowed to "sell" crime stories, which is the main stay of their business. It is the moral duty of the press to play up high profile cases and to report accurately. Even during the kidnapping case of a young student in Sri Hartamas, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made an impassionate public appeal to find this boy. His role here was well received and no one accused him of sensationalising the case.

We should look at crime through the eyes of the victims and their loved ones and friends. Do they care about the statistics? For instance, if there were 1,000 murders the year before but "only" 900 this year, would it make a difference? Would the victims or their loved ones feel better, if they were told that the overall crime statistics show an improvement or that their cases were just the unfortunate ones? They would rather welcome information on effective measures to prevent crime or better ways of catching criminals, and perhaps an improvement of the justice system to ensure that criminals are adequately punished.

There are three main categories of crime – petty crime, organised violent crime, and fraud and corruption. We may need a different approach to deal with each category.

For petty crimes, we should examine the causes and how to address, prevent or minimise them. Poverty, unemployment, an abused childhood and an inadequate social welfare system are often cited by sociologists as common causes. The inability of our society to identify and filter out those who are suffering from mental problems before they cause harm to others, is also another failure of all stakeholders involved. And what about the discovery indicating that many dyslexic and smart youths – who have suffered, been punished unfairly and have dropped out from our educational system – are taking out their frustrations and revenge on our society by getting involved in petty crimes? What can we do to help these youngsters and prevent them from falling into the trap of criminal activities?

The worst types of criminals are the leaders of organised syndicates. Our society should be hard, resolute and even merciless in dealing with such people. Why can't there be a more efficient and just way of dealing with these hardcore criminals than wasting the time and resources of our justice system? Why is our criminal justice system so relatively lenient in treating human traffickers and violent loan sharks compared to drug traffickers?

What is hard to comprehend is why are there not many politicians or lawmakers campaigning for a strong approach to deal with organised crime when the cause to come down hard on such blood thirsty criminals is so popular with the public.

Dealing with fraud and corruption may require a more educated and knowledge-driven approach in prevention, enforcement and prosecution but this category of crime normally does not affect public sentiments on their personal safety and security. But it does not mean it is not an important category to deal with as the victims often suffer huge financial losses and even agony.

No one should blame the internet or social media for the rapid spread of crime stories. Most of these people spread these news or stories to alert their friends and relatives out of genuine concern and there is nothing sinister about it. Many are not comfortable about their safety and would just like to share their experiences. And blaming people who do not bother to report incidents of crime is not helpful either. It would be more helpful to give such people more confidence and better explain to them why they should report any crime either as a victim or witness.

Of course, while the press continues to play up crime stories, the police force or any relevant agency has every right to present positive statistics with the aim of allaying public fears. But in the "sensitive" atmosphere of distrust and fear, it would be wiser to focus more on effective measures to combat crime. It is difficult to change the negative public perception of an emotive issue with just hard statistics.

What is needed is a holistic, long-term and comprehensive approach by all stakeholders to work together and look beyond any narrow mindset in addressing an important social malaise and making the public feel more safe and secure.

The writer is the CEO of a think tank & strategic consultancy firm and believes that it may be necessary to take a stronger approach to deal with all violent crimes. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com
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