Policing Malaysia in the 21st Century: Steps forward for the Royal Malaysian Police (Part 1 of 3)

It is indubitable that the fight against crime is and has never been an easy task in country-building; even developed states suffer crime most particularly in areas where population is dense and income disparities are high. Cities such as London and Manchester in the United Kingdom report a higher incidence of crime ranging from petty theft to violent murders; indeed, the London Metropolitan police reports that nearly 1 person in 11 has committed a crime in 2009 in Greater London.

This article will introduce the effects of the recent drastic change in the Royal Malaysian Police (otherwise referred to as PDRM) composed of local initiatives such as the community policing strategy and the promotion of volunteerism through the RELA corps as well as federal initiatives as per the Crime National Key Result Area under the Government Transformation Programme. Four main areas will be considered:

  1. Access to Tangible Crime Statistics
  2. Operational Changes in the Structure of Policing (Training, Strategic Management, Checkpoints, Raids, Technology)
  3. Effectiveness of Initiatives
  4. Police Transparency

Policing in Malaysia

The Malaysian police have long been accused of corruption, indifference, racism and complacency amongst many other negative things. The public argue that the standard of policing in Malaysia is mediocre and sub-standard at best; repeated comparisons are made between the PDRM and police services of developed states in the occident. These expressions of dissatisfaction are not at a whim; many a Malaysian has experienced the occasions of bribery, police cover-ups, political involvement in policing as well as the usage of the police in religious law enforcement.

Malaysia scores 4.3 on the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International, where a rating of 10 signifies the lowest rate of perceived corruption and a rating of 1 indicates the highest rate of perceived corruption. It is obvious, based on the perception of the public that Malaysia needs to do more in the realm of community support and public accountability. Of utmost importance is the word “perception”, as it describes how the report was compiled; through a specialist consensus on corruption as seen through the public eye. What it does not do is reflect the actual “levels” of corruption (indeed, the methods of measuring corruption are complicated at best). I find that this issue is skewed more toward the influencing of the public’s mind and heart than that of actual crime figures. It is of utmost importance to point out that corruption includes everything from illicit monetary transactions in and out of the country, high-level government-industry collusion and political corruption to low-level bribery of traffic officers and perceived police cover-ups of major scandals involving members of the ruling elite, and does not in any way reflect the quality of the police service in Malaysia definitively.

Tangible Crime Statistics

Below is a comparison of England’s crime statistics to Malaysia’s. The decision to not include the entire United Kingdom which consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was taken because of the differences in policing and law between these countries.

Unfortunately, I am unable to scrutinise and compare England’s crime statistics to Malaysia’s own dataset during the same periods. This is stemmed by my inability to source legitimate, credible and context-sensitive material from both the Department of Statistics and the Royal Malaysian Police’s website. A request for information has been sent to the Bukit Aman Police HQ as of the 24th of February but so far, responses have been non-existent. Additionally, the current population of Malaysia is a World Bank estimate; the last consensus was undertaken in Year 2000.

The Crime NKRA – What has actually been done?

It would seem imprudent to exclude the Crime NKRA from this analysis, seeing as it has supposedly implemented drastic changes to the structure of policing in Malaysia. In late 2009, the GTP was compiled, and in it contained the Crime NKRA. The initiative was geared toward the swift and decisive eradication of crime through a flurry of policies and practises imposed over the year 2010. The key objectives of the Crime NKRA are:

  • 5% Reduction in Index Crime
  • 20% Reduction in Street Crime
  • Reduced Fear of “Becoming Victims of Crime” and Improved Public Perception of Safety
  • Improved “Public Satisfaction with Police services”

An online copy of the roadmap is available here.

What elements in policing has the Crime NKRA actually affected? Below is a list of achievements by the Crime NKRA during the past year.


 

From the points above it is easy to see that effort has been made toward the operational and strategic standpoint of policing; more raids have been carried out, relevant crime-reduction initiatives such as the Safe City Programme have been formed and the human resource management has been streamlined with officers being redeployed to the streets, their back-office duties taken over by other civil-service workers seconded from various governmental departments. It would not be irrelevant to state that the police are indeed taking decisive measures to improve their quality of service and efficiency in their operations. It is undisputed that these measures have reduced the level of index crime over the period that they were implemented, but what policies and practises have the police implemented to improve the public’s perception of their integrity?

The Community Oriented Policing Strategy

Malaysia has adopted a method of policing which is vaguely similar to the British’s Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPTs). The Community Oriented Policing Strategy (COPS) is a partnership between local residents and the police in charge of the district. Residents can report crimes or voice complaints via the initiative’s website. However, further investigation of the website reveals poorly written and non-specific objectives in the FAQ and About Us section. This lack of standardised information makes it exceedingly difficult to extrapolate any performance indicators based on salient and definite goals.  One is uncertain whether police officers actually engage with the neighbourhood face-to-face in events such as meetings, patrols and information sessions or whether the COPS is merely an online facility aimed at compiling a local crime database for public knowledge.

Police Transparency

The PDRM has been racked with controversies in transparency, from back in history till today, with high profile cases including the supposed murder of a political aide and a customs officer accompanied by the illicit surveillance and later arrest of Anwar Ibrahim, a popular political dissident­. Of precedence is the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuugiin where it is alleged that certain high-ranking elements of the government were involved and that the Police had performed a hasty cover-up, hurriedly planting a scapegoat in place of the actual culprits. Why have the public adopted such a disillusioned and at times, hostile opinion of the Police?

The answer quite possibly lies in the political aspect of policing. The PDRM has been accused of taking political sides, allegedly administering dual-standards of treatment toward members of different political parties and being skewed toward the Barisan Nasional party who have been in power for the past half-century. It would not be farfetched to note that the police supporting the BN government do so because they know no alternative. This may have been exacerbated by the cronyism which peaked during Dr Mahathir’s nearly three-decade old reign as Prime Minister.

More significantly, the police have been accused of corruption of the highest degree; ranging from high-stakes political cover-ups to petty street-level bribery of traffic officers by citizens hoping to escape a heavier summons and point on their licenses in court. These have contributed to the public dissent that the PDRM face in the current climate.

In addition, information is either unavailable or not made readily acquirable from online sources; the PDRM website does not contain comprehensive crime statistics nor provide useful information regarding the level of total crime recorded in Malaysia. Rather, the “Statistics” section of the website only provides limited information regarding index crime figures over the period of one month (Jan to Feb 2011 and Jan to Feb 2012). This makes it substantially difficult for analysts to compare the level of yearly crimes against historical trends over the past few years, not to mention decades. Whether this lack of information is a result of ill-maintenance of the website, the unwillingness of the police to provide said information, or most, likely whether the task of providing information lies at the bottom of the prioritisation ladder remains to be determined.

Looking Forward

It is indubitable that the Crime NKRA has indeed set new standards for the methodology of policing by the identification and subsequent prioritisation of officer placement according to crime hotspots as apparent from the Roadmap in addition to the adoption of the community policing strategy intended to bridge the gap between the police and local residents. However, the PDRM still face many challenges ahead.

An issue which is of prominence is the image presented by the police as observed in the United Kingdom and many other Western European states. Based on firsthand observation as well as information gathered from members of the public, lower ranked members of the PDRM have been known to display attitudes and characteristics which are unbecoming of a law enforcement officer. One only has to type in “Polis” in Google or YouTube, and is presented with video clips of police officers perhaps not acting the way they should. The recent BERSIH protests, which show police officers allegedly firing CS gas into hospitals as well as baton charging protestors, have been condemned by international media. While operational strategies and personnel placement are most certainly important aspects in policing, one must not discount the perception that the public have of officers.

Perhaps the PDRM could learn from the British style of policing. While no police service is inherently perfect, a Professional Standards Department (PSD) exists in each police force whose task is to investigate any complaints made against officers and recommend relevant actions to be taken against them should the complaints be proven to seriously affect the image of the force. I am unsure whether the PDRM has such a division within its ranks, but searches on the website have proven unfruitful. It is apparent that a higher standard of training is required for lower-ranked officers, especially those performing field duties who frequently interact with the public in the areas of customer service. Having spent the past four years working as a security officer, I have worked with the British police on a frequent basis and am impressed with the level of integrity and training that each officer holds. They are polite when dealing with the public, are firm in their decisions, willing to answer questions that are posed to them in the line of duty and are willing to accept their wrongdoing in certain cases.

It is clear that the improvements that PDRM has made are unprecedented; at no point over the past three decades have such drastic changes been observed over such a short period of time. While strategic and tactical elements of policing have most certainly improved, more attention needs to be paid to the public perception of the police; PDRM have attempted to exemplify this by introducing a mascot to its ranks as well as hold public consultancy forums for information gathering. However, in order to solidify the public’s confidence as well as continue on track, it is penultimate that the essentials of good customer service are instilled in every officer low to high-ranked, as is the main issue of this debate.

Coming up: The next article in this series will detail police integrity and the benefits of setting up a police complaints commission.

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