14.06.2015

Fear of crime

The very word “crime” brings shivers to many and today most of the members of the public would consider it is as the number one public concern in the country.

With the advance of modern communication and with virtually almost everyone having mobile apps, it is not surprising to see there has been a surge in crime videos going viral in the country.

These explicit criminal acts are then shared with the online community, and watching these few minutes’ video clips of criminals blatantly preying on innocent victims is both frightening and revolting.

Top of the list would be ATM robberies, with numerous video clips showing victims being robbed at ATM kiosks.  The victims are most of the time alone, and those who put up a struggle are often beaten or slashed. Others have their wallets and cash snatched right in front of the kiosks, particularly after attending to their transaction, when the thieves know they were loaded with cash.

The next to top the list is snatch thefts. There have been a few video clips going viral of women falling prey to snatch thieves. The modus operandi is always the same – two guys on a motorcycle tail a woman from behind and when alongside the victim, the pillion rider will make a grab for the handbag. Sometimes there is a struggle and the woman gets dragged or falls down, but most of the time it is a clean sweep, leaving the victim bewildered, physically and emotionally hurt and shocked.

One of the crime video being spread online shows a woman driving into a petrol station to fill up. As she leaves her vehicle, two motorcycles come into the station and one of the pillion riders gets into her car and drives off with her car, which happened to be having the engine running.  Viewers would wonder how careless the victim was, pondering when they themselves have made the mistake before.

Crime is a social menace in every society. Despite the police insisting that the crime index figures show that crime has gone down, members of the public still have the perception that these figures do not reflect the true picture of crime in the country.

This is not helped when they read in their morning papers, as well as news online, that there is snatch theft occurring almost daily, not counting other serious crimes like house breaking, armed robbery, some of which have cause serious injuries and sometime deaths.  And the numerous video clips of crime on the online apps further increase the public perception and fear.

Many would have thought that the government should seriously embark on a study to investigate the root causes of crime and take measures to address the problem. It should mete out stiffer and effective penalties to criminals who are apprehended; in particular those who have committed very serious offences like armed robbery, violence, or rape.

Banks and commercial enterprises should also have security guards stationed at ATM kiosks for the security of ATM users.  They can also consider fixing CCTV on their premises to record any criminal acts done on their customers.

The public would also be happy to see the police stepping up their patrols and at the same time set up road blocks in crime prone areas. Random police checks should also be conducted regularly on motorists and motorcyclists for weapons and house breaking tools in their possession.

Members of the public can also help in crime prevention.  Residents should be more vigilant and alert the police when they notice suspicious characters and potential criminals in their neighbourhood and streets. The police should also increase their patrols on the streets. Another suggestion is the public hope that more Police beat bases be set up in housing estates, particularly in known crime-infested areas.

The perception of crime is quite high among the people. People should not only be safe, they should also feel safe.  Telling the public that the crime rate is down will not give the public the feeling of security, particularly when reading the daily occurrence of snatch theft, house breaking and even murder in the media.

The many instances reported when victims of crime refusing to make police reports is a good example of the public distrust in the police – every time quoting victims saying that the police will not be able to do anything if they take the trouble to make a police report.

One clear example was reported in the media recently when women in the federal capital were confronted with men pleasuring themselves in front of them in car parks.  Though they conveyed their fears and helplessness on social media, a number of them said openly that they will not make a police report as they know the perpetrators will not be caught, as they, and many others, think that the police will not be able to do much more than take down their reports.

This perception on the police inability to solve crime is a very serious matter.  It questions the ethics of not trusting those who are supposed to protect us.  Who are we to turn to then?

Sociologists and criminologists will insist that crime is a normal occurrence in any society.  Most of us would accept this academically and of course in the old days where houses were not grilled, CCTVs were not a norm, and the media were not filled with murders, rape, house breaking and snatch theft that could make any citizen skin crawl.

We need to feel safe, and this perception should be a basic right of every citizen.

This scribe is also very worried not only from reading media stories on crime almost occurring daily but also from talking to neighbours and friends on how they have gone through the frightening experience of being snatched, robbed and their houses broken into.