What explains the steep drop in reports of break-ins and thefts in Malaysia?

What explains the steep drop in reports of break-ins and thefts in Malaysia?

By: Rama Ramanathan

Every society must take actions to reduce the many causes of crime such as rejection, hunger, envy, anger, addiction.

One of the goals of government is to eliminate such causes. The goal can be approached, but can never be attained. It has long been said that the only crime-free life is the after-life if there is one.

When we accept that crime on earth is inevitable, we also have to accept that actions must be taken to prevent or limit crime.

In Malaysia, crime is so normal that residents of landed properties routinely turn keys in three locks before they enter their homes. They also mount steel grilles on every window and door to make it more difficult for thieves to enter. Many even install security alarm systems and buy insurance to cover losses caused by break-ins.

Crime is believed to be so real a threat that residents of many housing estates (“gardens”) have hired private security companies to protect themselves. These companies fence off roads, set up road barriers, and establish foot or vehicular patrols.

Ironically, many people believe that most such “security companies” are operated by organized crime syndicates.

If that belief is true, it follows that residents pay robbers a monthly fee so that the latter will not commit the crime of “break-in” on their homes.

By choosing to pay fixed monthly fees to security companies, residents avoid the horror of having armed strangers break into their homes and make off with cash, jewellery, watches, phones, computers and so on. They also avoid the trauma of being confronted by violent persons.

It is hard to estimate the extent of unreported crime. We can only guess on the basis of anecdotes and personal experiences.

Homes I have lived in have been broken into and robbed twice, over a span of about three decades. Both times I didn’t report the break-ins, even though the value of goods stolen was large in relation to my personal income and wealth.

I didn’t report the break-ins because I didn’t lose documents such as identity cards or passports or goods (such as computers or phones) which belonged to my friends or employers. I didn’t report the break-ins because I thought it unlikely that the police would recover my goods. I didn’t report the break-ins because my losses were not insured.

My first reason for unbelief is that over my lifespan not one of my friends has recounted a successful outcome following a police report.

My second reason is what policemen said to friends who did make reports: “we are unlikely to find the thieves or the goods.”

My third reason is that the police do not publish the number of reported thefts and the corresponding number of crimes which are solved to the extent of persons being charged in court, let alone found guilty.

In the last paragraph, the words “and the corresponding number” are important because in December 2018, for the first time, the National Statistics Department published crime data for Malaysia.

I’ve summarized in the following table the section on “property crime:”

Crime Statistics Malaysia 2018, Table 1.5 (PDF page #65). Notice the
drop in reported overall property crime and that only 239 snatch
thefts were reported in 2017. The report gives no explanation for the
ten-fold drop in reports of snatch thefts.

The data in the second column shows that the reported number of house break-ins and thefts – nationally, including Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan – has fallen from 19,286 in 2015 to 16,200 in 2017.

What explains the big drop (19%!) in reported house break-ins and thefts over the period 2015 to 2017?

My guess is there are three reasons.

First, more people live in apartments and there are fewer thefts from apartments because of security provisions in apartment blocks.

Second, people only report thefts if they need a police report in order to claim compensation from insurance companies or if they think a police report will help them get replacement documents. (Admittedly, this fails to account for the astonishingly low number of reports of snatch thefts.)

Third, thanks to changing their business model to operating security companies, robbers “legally” extract money from residents instead of robbing them. Indeed, the big drop in thefts of vehicles (28%!) may indicate that many car thieves are now honest property guards.

It’s hard to brush off the thought that residents associations in Malaysia may have bought off criminals in order to protect themselves.

What does that say about Malaysians’ commitment to eliminate the root causes of crime? What does that say about public confidence in the police force which is said to directly employ over 130,000 persons?

Rama Ramanathan blogs at write2rest.blogspot.com and is the spokesperson for CAGED, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.

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