The ability to protect and keep our neighbourhoods secure are made easier these days with the presence of gated and guarded communities (G & G), more than aptly fitted with hefty barriers, security guards and tall fences. It’s an effective solution that reduces the opportunity for crime but is there more we could be doing to safeguard ourselves?
According to community policing (CP), neighbourhood watch groups or Rukun Tetangga (we use the terms interchangeably here), the answer is YES, we can do a whole lot more to improve the safety and wellbeing of our society.
Community initiatives as such are aimed at protecting our neighbourhoods and as well relate a clear and present issue: our police force cannot possibly be everywhere at once, so what do we do in the meantime? Better yet, what can we do to stop a crime before it happens? For this, CP purposes itself as the eyes and ears of the local police, alerting the authorities to possible criminal activity. It is a simple but powerful concept that basically asks members of the community to immediately notify the authorities or persons within your CP group if you suspect a crime is occurring, about to take place or if something is simply amiss. This could shorten response time and when truly effective, stops a crime dead in its tracks.
Does it work?
In states and townships where CP has a strong presence, we can see an overall decline in crime; Selangor down 17% (January to late May this year, when compared in the same period of last year) and in Sarawak, a reduction of 13% (January to late February of this year, when compared in the same period of last year).
Overall crime reduction in the country has been noted from the period of 2013 to 2014 by a total 12.6%. So clearly things are moving in the right direction but does it owe its reduction of crime directly to your friendly neighbourhood watch? More than likely, the reduction is being attributed to the Government Transformation Program aimed at reducing crime, one of which includes the public’s active involvement. Working through community participation-based initiatives like the Rakan Cop alert system, social media reporting, and increased technology (smartphone panic button), the CP drill is gaining traction.
What we are seeing is a joint effort between enforcers and the public to clean up the streets. It’s sending a clear signal to wannabe perpetrators, “we are ALL watching Y-O-U”.
What does this mean for our society?
It is becoming increasingly acceptable to become indifferent and isolated from your community. But if we accept that many instances of burglary and even violent crimes are avoidable, then it also means that a CP-equipped society has the ability to significantly reduce the incidence of crime. The hopeful outcome: an empowered community that lives within a safer society.
Should you participate?
The best reason to join in has much to do with getting yourself unshackled from the fear of crime or becoming a victim of one. It’s the best defence against the anxiety and terror that comes with being afraid that there’s a criminal somewhere just waiting to pounce and plunder your neighbourhood. So stand up and consider getting involved in an established community policing program under the purview of PDRM (if one exists in your area) to pitch in and do your part. If there is none, why not spearhead a neighbourhood watch program for your community?
Here are some quick tips to help you get started:
Tip #1: Get the support of your fellow neighbours
Hold a neighbourhood meeting with the aim of engaging at least 25 to 50 households to join and participate in your program. This number will show your local police authority that your area is serious about crime prevention.
Note also that to convince your potential participants, you will need to do your homework. So be sure to come prepared with relevant stats and research to back-up your proposition. Better yet, invite a representative from your local police department to help enlighten your neighbourhood on the necessity of a community policing program.
Tip #2: Get organized and communicate
Once you’ve established the interest, there needs to be structure, so do elect a leader or several leaders depending on the size of your neighbourhood watch.
Equally important is having clear and open communication channels to adequately transmit information in real-time. You can do this by creating a dedicated Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp group that doubles as an SOS to one another in times of emergency (before the cops come, that is).
Tip #3: Get official
The official Community Policing Website of Malaysia is the best start-point to get fully involved and thoroughly understand your role within Malaysia’s authorised CP program (Community Oriented Policing Strategies or COPS). You can start off by registering yourself and members of your group on the website’s web form or contact COPS directly to discuss your concerns. Remember to first obtain written consent and advice from the Community Policing Malaysia Office (HQ located at Puchong) as well as your nearest police station before the commencement of any activities.
Additional support may be available to your community in the form of festive season and crime prevention patrolling depending on your location. Do check the website for further information.
When there’s something weird in the neighbourhood, who you gonna call?
Always call the police first, do not attempt to make a citizen’s arrest (even though it may be within your rights) or decide to play a brave cop à la NYPD blue. As a responsible member of your neighbourhood watch, it’s also important that your members don’t play vigilante either. Thoroughly understand what your duties are: (1) OBSERVE and (2) REPORT – otherwise leave it to the professionals. Keep yourself safe first and foremost.
Your goal is to primarily keep an eye out for stranger danger. Living in the same community, it should be clear who lives where you do and who does not. Alert your group when people unfamiliar to you are seen loitering around your area and act suspicious.
What can you expect to achieve with a healthy neighbourhood watch program?
The short answer: A little peace of mind and a better quality of life. The advent of such programs has roots all around the world and continues to improve with better technology and communication tools. A vigorous CP program can truly aid relations between the community and the police to become even more effective as they work together.
In the long run it will hopefully reduce, by significant numbers, the opportunity for crime. Fundamentally, the program is a gallant attempt to make it difficult for criminals to act as they please, because with community policing, someone is always watching.
(Written by : Desiree Nair, 9th July 2015)
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