Neighbours on guard
20/8/2004 The Sun By Sharon Kam
BACK IN 1996, the residents of SD9 in Sri Damansara, Kuala
Lumpur, were shocked by the brutal gang-rape of a woman in her own
home while on maternity leave. Sadly, she succumbed to her injuries
a year later, leaving her baby without a mother.
The tragedy made her neighbours to
vow "never again", and drove them to set up a neighbourhood patrol.
Leo Chan, one of the pioneers of the neighbourhood patrol cum Bandar Sri Damansra Residents' Association,
said the patrol begin with just 30 male volunteers patrolling a
section with about 300 houses. Membership gradually grew.
"Not only were the patrols effective
in reducing crime, it also brought the residents closer together,"
Building on the neighbourhood watch,
the residents' association (RA) also organised social gatherings and
In a sense, their vigilance was too
successful. The patrols stopped in 1999 as crime fell drastically
and the residents felt there was no longer a need for them.
However, in the last two years, crime
rates in Bandar Sri Damansara, home to about 12,000 households, was
on the rise again.
Instead of neighbourhood patrols, the
residents' association decided this time to collect funds from
residents and hire private security guards. The patrols are expected
to begin this month.
In the meantime, several
neighbourhoods in Sri Damansara have already been turned into gated
There is another group of residents,
especially those who want added security on a budget or who prefer
not to pay for hiring guards, who plan to set up a Rukun Tetangga
"Both are initiated by the residents
with good intentions. It is up to the residents to see what works
best," Chan said.
The police themselves agree that
voluntary initiatives by the community such as neighbourhood patrols
and Rukun Tetangga (RT) have been a big help to the police in
In Seberang Perai, Penang, the crime
rate was cut by half after the introduction of neighbourhood patrols
by 23 RTs in the area. This prompted a proposal to revive
neighbourhood patrol units, especially in 234 crime hotspots in the
The public is now more aware of the
need to take an active role in creating their own safe havens.
They have long realised that they
cannot rely solely on the police to keep crime at bay.
Not that they blame the police, but
there is no longer any doubt that the police need all the help they
At the last dialogue with the police
in June, the Bandar Sri Damansara RA members were told about some of
the problems the police face.
The Sungai Buloh police station,
which covers 15 housing estates including Bandar Sri Damansara, has
only 53 personnel, who work on three shifts, and one official
multi-purpose vehicle for police patrols.
The lack of resources is a constraint
that limits the long arm of the law.
The entire police force currently
consisted of 88,938 personnel but only 62,391 are directly involved
in operations. The rest are engaged in administrative and management
Deputy Internal Security Minister
Chia Kwang Chye said the government aims to meet the international
standard in terms of a police to population ratio of 1: 250.
The current ratio in Malaysia is 1:
408. And for the police to have enough vehicles, the shopping bill
is a hefty RM200 million, according to a recent report.
Such inadequacies may have led to a
general perception that the police force is weighed down by
inefficiency. To make things worse, the public's sense of insecurity
heightens with every news report of a violent crime or crime-related
With the crime index rising almost 5%
between 2002 and last year, the public may believe that crime is not
only growing but becoming more violent too.
Considering the situation, the role
of the community is crucial, the Malaysian Crime Prevention
Foundation (MCPF) executive for neighbourhood outreach Norazila
Ramli (pix) said.
Residents' associations and RTs not
only serve a security function but nurture neighbourliness, racial
integrity and national unity, she said.
Neighbourly ties can help prevent
crime as neighbours look out for each other, she said.
"When you balik kampung for instance,
your neighbour can help keep an eye on your house. But for most
urbanites, with our hectic lifestyles, we hardly get to see, what
more to know, our neighbours. So we need neighbourhood activities
where such ties can be fostered." she said.
RAs also help establish closer ties
with the local authorities and the police which can lead to things
getting done faster.
According to Norazila, RAs are
usually set up in upper middle to higher income group areas as they
are able to fund them on their own and because they are the usual
targets of criminals.
On the other hand, RTs which are
funded by the government, are usually set up in middle to lower
income residential areas.
Although neighbourhood initiatives
have much going for them, it is no easy task getting residents to
Neighbourhood watches get better
support when crime hits close to home, as the Bandar Sri Damansara
experience showed. There is no denying that only when residents feel
threatened do they see the need to act.
"It is usually the ones who have had
close encounters with crime who are more committed," Chan said.
Hence, other than neighbourhood
patrols, which demand loads of commitment, time and effort on the
part of the residents, the other more recent alternative is to turn
residential areas into gated communities.
Such neighbourhoods exude an aura of
security. Visitors have to check in at sentry points leading into
the housing area. Private security guards are on duty
round-the-clock or at specific hours.
As the public feels the need to
regularly look over their shoulder, demand for such security
services are steadily rising.
According to the Internal Security
Ministry, there are at present around 315 security firms employing
150,000 security guards in the country.
Many new residential developments are
featured as gated communities in response to the demand for safer
"Safety is an important aspect when
people buy houses, or where people choose to stay," Norazila said.
The MCPF has a safe city programme
which is aimed at raising awareness among the various parties
including contractors, developers, local authorities and residents
themselves on the importance of proper environmental design of
housing areas in curbing crime and creating safer living
Developers and local authorities
should ensure that housing areas encompass security factors in their
planning and design, Norazila said.
A housing developer can, for
instance, provide residents with security services such as CCTVs as
a feature of the development or incorporate safety into the design
of its facilities.
The Bangsar zone, where the "Safe
City" initiative began in 1998, is a pioneer in this regard.
Responding the recent spate of snatch
thefts, the Housing and Local Government Ministry has called on
local authorities to consider enhancing pedestrian safety in the
form of barriers between roads and walkways and to ensure adequate
lighting and to set up CCTVs in crime-prone areas.
The people can also do much in
preventing crime by putting safety first and by making the local
police their partners in curbing crime.
For instance, they can provide
information to the police of any suspicious activities or people
around the neighbourhood, Norazila said.
"Simple things like locking up your
house before you go to bed help. Lack of safety consciousness makes
it easy for criminals to act.
"The police force is trying hard to
improve, and we have to help them," she said.
As Chan says, anyone of us can be the
next victim. We should not wait until some tragedy befalls us before
we decide to get involved.