Louis Liaw recently completed a one-month internship with LoyarBurokker Syahredzan Johan. His assignment was to write an article for the blawg on a topic of his choosing. Here it is.
If there is a topic of the month, I am pretty sure that the discussions on our crime rate would top it. Not only for this month, but also for the ones to come. We have seen discussions of it both on social media and in real life. Quite an obvious difference in opinions was observed: on the one hand, with the government releasing statistics to show a lowering of our crime rates and Malaysia becoming safer, while on the contrary, we ourselves hear and read about people becoming victims of robbery and other crimes.
More than ever before, I see and hear of people sharing and talking about themselves or friends getting mugged or having their houses broken into, and ironically this usually occurs when officials talk about the reduction in crime rates and how peaceful our country is.
Nevertheless, despite coming across so many encounters, I still felt detached from the issue as most happened in elitist shopping malls, which I do not frequent. However in the midst of this, I was shocked to learn that there was a girl who had her car snatched right in front of the library of the law school I used to attend. This incident jolted my system and made me realise how crime is indeed happening, and that I could be a victim myself.
The above episode had happened around 9pm, when a man pulled the girl out and drove her car away while she was about to enter her car. Students in the library witnessed the incident and thought it was a mere lover’s quarrel, only to find the girl stunned and the arrival of the police several minutes later. It took place right in front of the library where I used to spend hours everyday studying! How scary is that!? What was more terrifying was the fact that there are DBKL officers issuing summons to the cars parked there illegally (up to about three times a day, every day, mind you), a mobile police station parked not far away and police cars patrolling quite frequently.
Do we blame the increasingly brave criminals, the lack of awareness of the victims, or the law enforcers? Oh wait, someone has already started pointing fingers before I have! When we did not believe the statistics thrown to us by the government, we were said to be exaggerating, we were told that it was perception brought about by technology. Statistics cannot be wrong, can they? How often do we hear of people around us – friends, family, colleagues, even sometimes ourselves being robbed, car windows smashed, houses broken in, shoes stolen? I am sure some stories popped right up in your mind while reading this.
More importantly, it is almost pointless to dispute actual crime rates, as long as people still live in constant and real fear even in their own housing areas or on mere strolls in shopping malls; you know the situation is bad and it demands a solution. End of story. What kind of state are we in where we are ‘glad’ when no one was hurt or murdered in any unfortunate incident? Robbery and burglary seems so commonplace and no longer a big deal.
The million dollar question then, is, what’s the solution? Unfortunately, this article is meant more to be descriptive than prescriptive, so I will not suggest any solutions. Instead, I aim to bring your attention to one of the fundamental causes of what is happening – i.e. the police force – and perhaps we can work something out from there.
To me, what puts one to despair is not the frequency of crime occurring, but the helplessness it causes us to feel. Often, it seems as if there is no one we can depend on to take action against the perpetrators, what more to eradicate our fear and restore our safety. Not only we are accused of exaggerating, misrepresenting and having a lack of awareness (e.g. girls blamed for wearing sexually appealing outfits leading to, say, sexual assault), we also consequently do not see any positive reactions from the police force, be it actual moves on the ground or just a mere proclamation that they will take action and treat this seriously.
Perhaps a promise to reinforce crime-fighting measures – even if it were an empty one – would at least give hope to people and possibly deter potential criminals. But we see none of this. Our sense of hopelessness is what begs attention and action.
On top of that, sometimes the very people we rely on to curb crime and eradicate our fears, are in fact the very source of our fears. Police misconduct is not new in Malaysia. This is perhaps due to the increasing awareness on socio-political issues on the part of the public, or perhaps due to recent waves of activism sweeping across the nation – highlighting the areas of police misconduct. While we do not downplay the honourable profession nor oversee the existence of good responsible policemen, we shall not close our mind to the uglier side of the police force; this, not to spark hatred, but only to create awareness of the problem and find a solution to it.
Among the varieties of police misconduct are unnecessary brutality and mistreatment of accused persons during interrogation, arrest and especially during public rallies. Bersih was a perfect example; we witnessed police brutality at its most public. We have seen reckless and disproportionate use of force during such rallies. The uncivilized, negligent and reckless use of water cannons and tear gas was almost barbaric – senseless and malicious. The police force apparently did not adhere to any code of conduct – not even common sense when discharging their duties – as many have witnessed them kicking and punching, provoking and mocking the participants, preventing media from recording the scene, acting without official tags on their uniform and so on.
You expect them to maintain order and protect us? Ensure our safety? Now go fly a kite.
There was this one piece of news where police officers were alleged to have molested the victim, a lady. Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi? Who do you trust? Not forgetting there is quite possibly a “blue shield” in the police force where all protect each other and remain silent on misconduct of their colleagues.
Similarly, here’s a personal experience of someone very close to me: due to her poor health condition, she fainted at the train station in KL Sentral. A passer-by contacted the police and according to her, in her half-conscious state, it was the police who sent her to the hospital. She recalled feeling him, who sat beside her in the police car during the journey to the hospital, touching her private parts and attempting to put his hand into her pants, thinking she was unconscious.
I was disgusted, utterly disappointed and furious when I heard it but also at the same time felt totally helpless. Who do we go to in such a situation? Appoint a lawyer and file a civil suit? What are the chances of winning the case? The both of us are law students and yet, we have no idea what to do. What more the layman on the street?
All in all, as said above, this article is only to raise awareness on the issue. It is not to condemn nor offer solutions, mostly because I myself cannot think of any. The only possible solution might be to lobby for the formation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as recommended by a Royal Commission 2004. To date, the government has rejected this proposal.
Something has to be done. At the very least, let us start talking about what can be done.