In the recent week there has been a discussion in the media about preventive laws as a way of reducing serious crime in Malaysia. There are those who support the reintroduction and there are those who oppose it.
The discussion has entered public sphere in the context of rising crime in Malaysian society. This proposition was put forward by Dr P Sundramoorthy in a recent letter to a number of papers including the New Straits Times, The Sun and The Star.
It is based on a USM research team on serious crime, gang activities and the need for preventive laws with adequate checks and balances.
Unfortunately this study is not released to the general public to review the methodology and findings.
In the public domain there is only a brief letter to the media and this is unfortunate. As an academic institution, USM must release the full study for a better understanding of its conclusions.
A number of individuals including Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies chairperson Ramon Navaratnam have supported this move in the interest of addressing violent crimes and supports the idea of giving the police the powers they need as an immediate step, but with adequate checks and balances.
The objective is to keep violent gang people off the streets and ensure some security by limiting the liberties of a few.
However, Hasmy Agam, the Human Rights Commission chairperson, has expressed reservations against suggestions to reinstate preventive type of laws as an instrument for crime prevention. He noted that such a move was retrogressive.
His fundament assertion is that detention without trial was against Article 8 (1) of the federal constitution and Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
He went on further to state that a human rights approach is not soft on crime or criminals but calls on the police ‘to enhance the effectiveness of its crime investigation, prevention and monitoring mechanism, as well as rehabilitation programme for former detainees'.
Police commission analysis and recommendations
The main thrust of the police commission recommendation was for ‘a policing system that is in greater compliance with human rights standards'.
It urged the repeal of the Restricted Residence Act 1933 and the Emergency (Public order and prevention of crime ordinance 1969) and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959.
The royal commission however recommends that there be "amendments to the Societies Act 1966 (Act 335) relating to members of triads), the Common Gaming House Act 1953 (Act 289 (relating to illegal gaming), the Penal Code and the Child Act 2001 relating to human trafficking should provide legal presumptions to be in consonance to such illegal activities as practised today and to make prosecution of such offenders more effective".
In addition the police commission report devoted the whole of Chapter 8 on the topic ‘Enhancing Investigative Policing'. There are 26 specific recommendations.
The focus is on building the competencies of the police towards effective investigations leading to successful prosecution and punishment. The call is for investigative policing which is evidence based.
This chapter must be revisited and we must build a police force that can undertake their role effectively and efficiently. Preventive laws on serious crime and gang activities dilute good policing and it do not provide effective crime control not reduce crime.
The way forward
We have about 100,000 people in the police force in Malaysia today. There is an increased number of companies and private business with private police and also the rise of gated communities.
But why is there a rise in crime especially violent crime which is gang related. How is it, as the USM study indicates, criminals are so free to do what they do, namely taking the law into their own hands?
In this context we need to ask how many police personnel are really involved in serious police work such as investigations.
How large is the team and what is their case load per investigating officer?
Do they have the resources and support to do their job well namely to investigate and bring people before the courts?
We are all today familiar with the documentaries on CSI and other aspects of investigative policing.
My analysis is simple, gangs and operators are in the community, they are visible and they leave a trail of crime and evidence.
I am unable to believe that our police do not know who they are, where they are and what they are doing in terms of prostitution, gaming and other illegal activities connected with the underworld.
Even in the case of snatch thieves, do they not leave a trail, where do they sell the items they steal?
They all leave a trail of crime.
What we need is serious police work, the investigators and the non-uniformed police in the community should focus more on undercover operations, have better informer systems, more professionals in the investigative team and better witness protection programmes.
Personally I am convinced that the police which have a long history and many good men, must not be shortchanged by laws which will undermine good policing.
The urging we must make is that the police need to be more effective in bringing criminals through improving the standard of investigation.
We need to instill in everyone's hearts and minds that crime does not pay and in the end there's no escape from the long arm of the law.
Addressing root causes
Another important dimension in crime prevention which is not part of policing but the role of government agencies is to address socio-economic conditions and issues of people in high risk to crime.
We all know the breeding grounds and the circumstances where serious crime among youths occurs.
A stronger socio-economic intervention program in the high risk communities is essential to prevent the outflow into gangs.
This is a national problem and therefore all relevant agencies must work in an inter-agency approach together with civil society to address the root causes of serious crime.
While this is long term, we must be strategic as well as very target oriented, especially at those from dysfunctional homes and families.
It is time that the prime minister and the federal government establishes a special panel comprising of senior criminal lawyers, former police commissioners, the Bar Council, Suhakam and EAIC to review this area of serious crime and assist the police to strengthen investigative and evidence based policing in Malaysia.
DENISON JAYASOORIA is the secretary-general of Proham (Society for the Promotion of Human Rights) and a former member of the Royal Police Commission (2004-2005) and the Human Rights Commission (2006-2010).