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How official crime statistics are doctored and manipulated

Commentary

 crimekpiIntroduction by CPI

Recently, the CPI published an explanation from the Polis DiRaja Malaysia in response to public concern about rising crime in the country and official statistics which provide an opposite picture of the trend in the last three years (see the exchange in CPI between Dr Lim Teck Ghee and ACP Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf ).

We are now reproducing a letter from a reader (according to his letter, he is a police officer with over 30 years service experience) disputing the PDRM’s claim that “the question of doctored figures should not arise at all” and that “crime statistics released by the PDRM are the actual figures of criminal cases reported to and investigated by the police department [and] no alteration or adjustment to the figures can be done, in order to portray a rosy picture of the crime situation as claimed by certain quarters.”

The letter is valuable not only in showing how the official statistics have been doctored to meet the Barisan Nasional’s target of crime reduction as set out in the GTP but in the many useful and concrete suggestions it provides in fighting crime in the country.

CPI recommends that the contents of the letter be carefully assessed by PDRM and the public to help in the fight against crime.

The letter has been edited minimally for typographical and other minor grammatical errors but otherwise has been left intact.

********************************

Crime statistics – Let the truth be told!

By Name Withheld

Is the crime rate down? Yes, relying on the statistics provided by the police and Pemandu. Is that a true reflection of the crime situation? The answer is certainly a big ‘NO’.

Crime is basically divided into two categories. One is ‘Index Crime’ and the other is ‘Non-Index Crime’. The statistics made available by the police are only those cases which come under the ‘index crime’ category.

‘Index crime’ is defined as crime which is reported with sufficient regularity and with sufficient significance to be meaningful as an index to the crime situation. Essentially, it means the index is the yardstick to gauge the crime situation of a given place, the district, state or the whole country. The index crime statistics will show whether the crime has increased, decreased or moving constantly.

‘Non-index crime’ on the other hand is considered as cases minor in nature and does not occur with such rampancy to warrant its inclusion into the crime statistics or as a benchmark to determine the crime situation.

‘Index crime’ consists of two categories. One is ‘Violent Crime’ and the other is ‘Property Crime’.

‘Violent Crime’ comprises murder; rape; armed robbery with accomplice; robbery with accomplice; armed robbery; robbery; and causing hurt. Meanwhile ‘property crime’ comprises theft; car theft; motorcycle theft; heavy vehicle theft; snatch theft; and burglary. These are the crimes used as statistics to portray the crime situation.

In 2009, the government came up with the ‘Government Transformation Programme’ (GTP) and ‘crime’ was amongst the ‘National Key Result Area’ (NKRA). The Key Performance Index (KPI) set for the police on the 27 July 2009 under the NKRA was to reduce crime by 20%.

That tall order to reduce crime by 20% was a dilemma for the police. The police knew that the demand is idealistic but not feasible to be achieved. Any criminologist will tell that crime is the product of socio-economic factors and the police being a part of the criminal justice system cannot alone tackle this issue.

However, in upholding the dignity and image, the police succumbed to the political pressure in agreeing to achieve the targeted KPI set under the NKRA. With the prevailing policing standard and practice, the police may be able to contain the crime situation to a certain extent, but to reduce it by 20% is absolutely an impossible feat. So, in desperate times, desperate measures are taken.

The police then came up with an ingenious way of achieving the target. The principle behind the plan is, well, if this is what the political masters’ want, then we shall give it to them the way they want.

As said earlier, the crime statistics consist of only the index crime. Hence, they gradually lowered the crime statistics by shifting the index crime to the non-index crime. The shifting is done at the time the police report is lodged. The classification of the crime from index to non-index will be captured in the police reporting system as ‘non-index’ and thus not registering it as an index crime for the purposes of statistics. Lowering the index crime will show that the particular crime is on the decline.

There are several types of crime where the classification can be manipulated from index to non-index. The maneuvering begins at the police district level which receives the report and subsequently transmitted to the State Police Headquarters and Federal Police Headquarters. The crimes which were manipulated are:

a. Robbery cases under the Penal Code are classified as index crime. This offence will be classified as non-index under section 382 of the Penal Code. Since, section 382 of the Penal Code is a non-index crime, therefore will not be reflected in the crime statistics.

b. Burglary under section 457 of the Penal Code is an index crime. This offence will be classified as non-index under sections 452 or 453 of the Penal Code. Since, sections 452 and 453 of the Penal Code are non-index crime therefore will not be reflected in the crime statistics.

c. Causing hurt under sections 324 and 326 are index crimes. These offences will be classified under section 148 of the Penal Code. Since, section 148 of the Penal Code is a non-index crime therefore will not be reflected in the crime statistics.

The under classification of the index crime to non-index crime runs into several thousand cases. Of course, by removing these cases from the crime statistics will reflect that the crime has gone down.

A simple way of ascertaining the extent of cases taken off from the index crime category for the purpose of reducing the crime statistics is by asking the police to provide the statistics of cases classified under sections 148, 382, 452 and 453 of the Penal Code since the implementation of the NKRA to date.

Then a comparison should be made with the statistics of cases under the said sections in the last three years preceding the NKRA. You will discover a sudden hike in the number of cases under those sections after the introduction of the KPI. This figure should then be compared with the figure of the same sections for the three years preceding the NKRA.

The result will confirm that for the period of three years prior to NKRA, cases classified under sections 382, 452 and 453 are almost nil and under section 148 may have only few reported cases. The number of cases recorded under the four sections for the three years after the NKRA minus the number of cases recorded for the three years before the NKRA will be the figure that has been manipulated.

Other factors that suppress the crime statistics during the NKRA period are:

  1. There are many cases under the index crime category that are not opened for investigation and were closed with no further action (NFA). These cases involve robberies, snatch thefts and burglaries. Police take no further action for the reason there is no sufficient ground for proceeding with the matter if the suspect cannot be identified, the loss is minimal or there is no lead to proceed further. There are thousands of cases of this nature and since these cases are not opened for investigation, therefore, will not be reflected in the crime statistics. No profiling is done on these cases, but merely swept under the carpet. Without profiling then the trend, pattern, target areas and possible suspects could not be studied to address the recurrence of these incidents.
  1. There are also cases short-changed in order to achieve the KPI. Say, for example, in a particular day there are 10 cases of burglaries reported in a certain housing area. Only one case will be opened for investigation and the other nine cases will be cross-referred to the one case that was opened. For the 10 cases of burglaries, the statistics should be 10 cases of index crime. Since, there is only one case that was opened for investigation therefore the other nine cases will not be reflected in the index crime statistics.
  1. Dark figures (crimes not reported) are not factored into the crime statistics. There is a theory that for every 10 cases reported there will be one case not reported. People do not report crime when they have lost faith in the police. Lack of faith may arise when the people have the impression that the police will not treat the report seriously; ineffective investigation due to incompetence; practicing double standards; no confidence the police can solve the case or bring justice to the victim or can recover the lost items; discriminative investigation based on the person’s background, influence, or status in society; minor trauma or losses treated with scorn; cases can be compromised by suspects getting away through bribery, influence be it political or social standing; exhaustive in going to the police station and lodging report; and last but not least is distrust and suspicion about the police.

Overall, the crime has indeed gone up. There are many flaws in the statistics dished out to the public. The statistics was tailored to justify the KPI and appease the powers that be. It is better for the police to tell the truth and shame the devil.

In response to Dr Lim Teck Ghee, the police said, “Crime statistics released by the PDRM are the actual figures of criminal cases reported to and investigated by the police department. These figures are auto-generated by the department’s computer system i.e. the Police Reporting System (PRS). In this way, no alteration or adjustment to the figures can be done, in order to portray a rosy picture of the crime situation as claimed by certain quarters.”

The rationalization of the computer system (PRS) to validate the crime figures is a flawed excuse. The system picks up only what has been fed into it. PRS system does not control classification of cases. To demonstrate that the GTP, NKRA and KPI are a success, classification of cases was doctored and entered into the system which will surely produce the result that was desired.

The police made another assertion, “All crime data and statistics generated within the PDRM system have been audited and verified by Pricewaterhouse Coopers Malaysia.”

Do you expect accountants to audit and verify classification of cases? Are they going through all the police reports to ensure the nature of crime committed, categorizing the correct section of the offence under the law, and classification of the case as index or non-index?

Be truthful on their role that is only limited to calculating the figures given by the police. In fact, it is a waste of public funds hiring accountants to just vet the figures if only the police are honest in the first place.

End the charade on public relations (PR) exercises to erase the fear of crime. Stop fooling the public with PR programs, like ‘high profile policing’, ‘high visibility patrol’, ‘walkabout’, ‘stop and talk, ‘meet and greet’, and ‘singing in shopping malls’, that won’t work when criminals are still milling around.

Spending huge money hiring consultants with no background or expertise in criminal field to advise the police was the biggest blunder. It is a shame on the police organization of 205 years, having police officers of more than 30 years in service and experience with educational background from degree to PHD, being unable to tackle the crime situation.

Police are not looking at the proper perspective in tackling crime. Victims of crime go to the police for what? To seek redress!

Investigation is the area where most people are frustrated of, suspicious and lack confidence in the ability of the police to apprehend the suspect and solve the case. This is the primary cause of dissatisfaction and the negative perception of the police.

Poor investigation and inaction lead to more criminals on the streets and crime becoming more prevalent and widespread. One of the ways to reduce crime is by removing as many criminals as possible from the society and sending them behind bars.

Crack the whip on the investigators. Increase the staffing of investigators in all departments involved in investigations and the right officers to helm these departments at district, state and federal levels. As a reminder, terminate at once the current distortion of the KPI on solving rate and charging rate before it develops into another controversy.

Another bone of contention is crime prevention. Instead of wasting manpower and time on PR exercises, the proven tried and tested methods must be invigorated. The mobile and beat patrols and roadblocks must be strengthened and energized. Poor planning, lackadaisical attitude of staff, lack of knowledge and skills are the main problems afflicting this area. Ad hoc measures of crime prevention are ineffective and should be a thing of the past. Crime prevention through mobile and beat patrols should be constant and extensive with sufficient police presence, effective enforcement and result orientated.

It takes a thief to catch a thief. There was a time when detectives were very resourceful in intelligence gathering and have the ability to pinpoint the culprit just by analyzing the modus operandi. They were all-rounded and like cats can smell the rats miles away.

Good, capable and mind probing detectives have been displaced with insignificant desk jobs. The investigation departments are now filled with personnel who are expected to display noble attributes and source for information and intelligence on crime from temples and churches. This segment of the organization needs to be given importance and improvised. More personnel should be inducted with the necessary skills and agility to gather intelligence on criminal activities, detect and apprehend criminals.

Immediate and drastic move to improve on those three areas (investigation, crime prevention and detectives) will produce significant progress in alleviating the crime menace the people are experiencing now.

Criminals come from various ethnic backgrounds. The police organization should similarly be staffed with sufficient policemen from multi-ethnic backgrounds. The police organization is now filled with more than 90 percent consisting only of one ethnic group.

Crime has no boundary or race barriers. The composition of the police should reflect the society they are dealing with. The police are unlike an organization that doesn’t deal or interact with the public. How do you expect policemen from one ethnicity to effectually communicate, source for information, deal with criminals, and address communal issues, with a person of different culture, customs, language and background in an effective and practical manner?

This is not a racial issue, but voiced with a noble intention in the best interests of all Malaysians.

Policemen are hired to instill peace and security. Police should not waste too much time, energy and manpower to preach religion and be involved in religious activities. There is too much of religious activities in the police force now.

All policemen subscribe to a religion at the time of employment and there is no reason for them to go wayward with the discipline of the force in place. There is a unit called ‘Bahagian Agama dan Kaunselling’ (BAKA) established in all districts, states and federal level to organize religious functions, activities and sermons.

This should be left to the experts in religion and counseling. They can be roped in or hired to provide religious and counselling services instead of using so much of police manpower trained in fighting crime.

Police are responsible for the maintenance of law and order. They are answerable to the law and the law alone. The Home Minister has no business in occupying two floors of office building at Bukit Aman. His appropriate place is at the Home Ministry, Putrajaya. His role should be confined to policymaking only and not getting involved in, directing, or supervising the day-to-day operations of the police.

There is no guarantee that he won’t be under investigation if he transgresses the law. The IGP should not be put in a comprising position should a conflict of issue arises involving the Home Minister. One very senior police officer with the ranking of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) is dedicated to chaperon the Home Minister. Many more senior officers and men are assigned to him in the name of NKRA. This is a sheer waste of manpower, tax payers money and abuse of power, whence these men should be on the ground maintaining law and order.

To fight crime, you have to take the bull by its horns. The police should not be parading in public, smiling; giggling; shaking hands; stop and talk; and meet and greet, to overcome the fear of crime or the negative perception. That is only a cosmetic appearance when the real grievance is unresolved and unattended.

The police are a leading crime enforcement body and are not in the tourism industry or tasked with public relation functions. The police must appear serious and stern whilst executing their duties. Their sacrosanct oath of protecting the people and property must be honoured.

There must be a climate of fear and respect towards the police. The fear must come from the wrongdoers and those who intend to contravene the law. Respect is from those who feel secure when seeing the men in blue. Are the police doing the right thing to earn that respect?

People are feeling insecure with the crime situation and the fear of being a victim keeps increasing. Ironically, even the policemen are having the same sentiment. Camouflaging crime figures will only aggravate the situation further. Be honest and tell the truth.

 

The writer is a policeman with over 30 years service experience who wishes to remain anonymous.

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