THE events in Penang relating to the arrest of volunteer members of the Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit (PPS) and its leadership have drawn tremendous public interest and unwarranted speculation. As a criminologist familiar with the philosophy, functions and mechanism of voluntary crime prevention patrol groups, let me share some insight into this issue.
This may help all parties understand the importance of voluntary crime prevention groups.
After the March 2008 elections, the Federal Government, through its Government Transformation Programme, undertook urgent measures to address the people’s demands and the most pressing socioeconomic issues.
The National Key Results Areas (NKRAs) are the priority needs of the people. They represent a combination of short-term priorities and equally important long-term issues. The seven NKRAs are reducing crime, fighting corruption, improving student outcomes, raising living standards of low-income households, improving rural basic infrastructure, improving urban public transport and addressing the cost of living.
Reducing crime looks at revitalising and improving the criminal justice system, and addressing crime and policing issues through innovative crime control strategies. A key component of the strategy is to encourage all segments of society to actively participate as stakeholders in crime prevention.
In fact, the concepts of partnership, engagement and commitment are synonymous with the intention to promote the direct and indirect involvement of society in preventing and reducing crime. The strategy to encourage local community participation is critical and necessary. The general nature of policing in most democratic societies is more reactive than proactive. However, in recent years, the trend to allocate additional resources (both personnel and equipment) by the respective governments for police departments is for the sole purpose of proactive policing.
The Home Ministry supported and approved the establishment of the Crime Prevention and Community Safety Department in the police force. However, most police departments around the world are understaffed and under-equipped. Most are unable to commit police personnel to patrol residential areas, commercial areas and selected hot spot areas at a frequency that residents and owners prefer.
Thus, establishing crime prevention voluntary groups in communities is desirable, effective and efficient in preventing crime. Basic training is provided to citizen volunteers, who can then play an active role as the “eyes and ears” of the police force. These voluntary groups can help reduce crime in their communities and complement the activities of public law enforcement personnel.
Community-based neighbourhood organisations are often a ready source of active citizens, who voluntary choose to participate and become involved in crime prevention activities. Volunteers interested in helping to lower crime rates in their communities participate in police-coordinated training programmes specifically for crime prevention activities.
These programmes address basic radio procedures, traffic control, crowd control, citizen’s arrest procedures, basic first aid, and other relevant knowledge and skills related to basic policing.
The emphasis is on the importance of personal and community safety measures. These unarmed citizens patrol areas where high incidences of non-violent property crime have been reported. They are required to report to police any knowledge of suspicious activity. Furthermore, they assist in the collection of any complaint and information from businessmen and citizens by gathering information on potential threats in their communities.
Voluntary crime prevention groups also assist by sharing information with community members on current crime trends or safety concerns in each community.
The police department must ensure that all such information is accurate and relevant.
An active community policing and crime prevention programme is vital to the success of proactive policing strategies. The police chief or his representatives must be willing to attend community meetings and coordinate regular dialogue sessions on crime trends in each community. They must be able to encourage and recruit active and willing volunteers to serve.
The municipality or state government must make a commitment (by providing financial support) to initial and follow-up training programmes for the volunteers.
Furthermore, to sustain motivation to participate, local police must respond to the information that the groups have gathered. Appropriate recognition must be given to their contributions when their efforts prevent crime, solve crime and enhance the perception of safety in neighbourhoods, businesses and hot spot areas. Notably, citizens must feel safe while acting as volunteers in crime prevention patrol groups and they must feel that their work makes a difference.
Their supervision by local police is eminent. The Federal Government, state government, municipality, police department and local businessmen can help provide citizens with the training and logistic requirements, and other support needed to sustain the volunteer crime prevention patrol programme.
Criminal history background checks must be conducted on the volunteers to ensure that none has serious criminal records or is known to be a member of criminal gangs and syndicates. Any abuse of power or authority by voluntary crime prevention patrol group members must be dealt with fairly and justly in the legal system. No one is above the law and this must be clearly understood by all.
I certainly hope the above information provides an insight for all parties concerned. To reduce crime in society and the negative perception towards safety, it is pertinent to have citizens participate as volunteers in various types of crime prevention activities and work in partnership with the police department.
The battle to fight crime by police on their own may bring some positive results. However, the war to prevent and control crime is a guaranteed success when done in partnership and engagement with the local community.
Associate Prof Dr P. Sundramoorthy, research team on crime and policing, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, George Town, Penang NST Letters 4 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:09 AM