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MGG: Crime And The Police
By M.G.G. Pillai

22/8/2001 4:16 am Wed 2001/08/2001082102.php3

Tuesday August 21

Crime and the police

M.G.G. Pillai

12:00pm, Tue: An elderly medical doctor and his wife, a neighbour of a cabinet minister, were returning home last week when a Mercedes Benz, with a few men, well-dressed, in control, deliberately chased their BMW and tried to force them off the road.

The doctor gave them the slip, rushed to the cabinet minister's home and his wife screamed for help. The policeman on duty did nothing as the men calmly got out of their Mercedes to seize the lady's handbag and quietly sped away. The minister, hearing the commotion, raised the alarm. It was too late.

One former cabinet minister said his young son would regularly take the policeman's pistol when the fellow slept on duty yet the latter would be unconcerned when he found it missing on waking. Dereliction of duty is expected, it would seem, when mounting guard at a cabinet minister's house.

Were it only that, it would not matter. But one cannot now expect the police to act expeditiously as situation warrants.

You had an accident? You are forced to spend hours at the police station, only to be told at the end of it all the police could do little if the other party did not report. The reporting is to comply with the law and your rights with the insurance company which insured your car. The law that requires you to file a police report after an accident is cheerfully ignored.

Unsolved crimes

But these are minor squiggles. What frightens is the police's poor record in solving crimes.

A girl was brutally murdered in the vicinity of police headquarters. The case is forgotten. Another unsolved crime. The miraculous appearance of a Taliban-like organisation, more frightening than the original, has, we are told, solved other high-profile murders and serious crimes. But none are, as yet, are charged in court for the crimes.

So, the citizen is more at risk in his daily life. In the past fortnight, burglars tied the husband and raped his wife in his sight; in another, a girl, not yet 10, is raped in front of her parents.

A resident in the area of the first incident tried, so far unsuccessfully, to inform the police of how a dozen foreigners, Indonesians all, living at the house next door to his, put his family in fear. The police told him since no crime was committed, they could not accept his complaint.

I advised him to note the badge number of the policemen he spoke to and complain to the officer-in-charge, with copies to the Inspector-General of Police and the home minister. The police cannot refuse to accept a complaint. In any case, the law provides for severe penalties for filing false reports. When, years ago, the police would not at first accept my complaint, but relented only after I promised to inform the then home minister, one Dr Mahathir Mohamad, if they did not accept it.

The citizen today is afraid of the police. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for houseowners to inform the police if they were not in town. A policeman regularly would turn up to find the house was not broken into. Now, you invite trouble if you do that. The citizen tries to order his life as far away from the police as possible. They are not regarded as friends.

Crime is all too prevalent in the Klang Valley, and no doubt elsewhere in the country. What the newspapers report are but a token. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is committed by Indonesian workers, legal or illegal; the rising violence, including rapes, adds fear. And not just Indonesians. The Bangladeshis, mostly illegal, add to the problem. And the police's ho-hum approach to crime prevention.

Frightening critics

Yet, when Umno Youth or the MCA or MIC president lodges a police report usually to frighten their critics, the police begins to investigate immediately. When the Inspector-General of Police beats up the just arrested and sacked deputy prime minister, and lies about it, those lower down, it is a fair bet to assume, would with impunity do the same with those they arrest.

Ask those arrested under the ISA if they were maltreated, they would deny it on the record, but in private often would not. No one believes he would not be physically abused if the police would ever arrest him, and not necessarily under the Internal Security Act.

The crackdown on porno videos is, so the talk goes, to force new distributors, challengers to the status quo, off the streets and business. That it widens to include political videos is neither here nor there. But it is a safe bet that once the newcomer is forced off, the police would lose interest in all VCDs on sale, porno, political or pirated.

It does not matter if one is wrong in these public perceptions and assumptions. If the citizen, enough of them, believes it, the truth does not matter. That is why the government lost the moral high ground long before it finally admitted the Inspector-General of Police (then) no less assaulted the just arrested former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1998.

However you look at it, the police are now not neutral. If a citizen has a problem with his MP, especially if he is from Barisan Nasional, especially if it leads to blows, he cannot expect the police to look upon it neutrally, and charge the MP if he is wrong. They would not investigate it, unless the higher up decides to make an example of the MP.

The police once was the citizen's shield against crime and political pressure. Today, it would do little to provide that shield. It is yet another sign that instruments of state break down irrevocably. One that cannot change so long as the government does not know whether it comes or goes.