The statistics show that total crime in general has been declining since 2009, according to PEMANDU. Yet many members of the public distrust the statistics and insist that they do not feel what the statistics suggest. Others in the wild, wild world of cyberspace, where discussions can be very unrefined, openly call those in authority outright liars, which is not the first time that has happened. Suffice to say those in the government are frustrated at incredulity exhibited by many members of the public towards the official narrative of declining crime.

Idris Jala, the head of PEMANDU, cited an article entitled ”Cockeyed optimists” in The Economist some time ago. The message of the article, among others, is that perception lags behind actual crime statistics. The article referred to the United Kingdom to support its claim. In short, Idris Jala was defending the statistics amid widespread disbelief. He tried to rationalize the seemingly contradictory signals inferred from the reported crime statistics and public perception of the level of crime within the society, and he hoped others believed it. If he had not hoped, he would not have shared his rationalization in the first place.

Eugene Tan, a PEMANDU director, was clearer in delivering the same message. ”Changes in perception do not immediately follow changes on the ground. And even when people fear crime less and perception changes, the change is slower than the actual reduction of cases,” he reportedly said.

Crime may be falling. Or at least the reported official crime statistics are declining. And it may be true that perception lags behind crime rate.

Or it may be that falling crime rate itself is not the real concern. Maybe, the actual issue is that the public tolerates only so much crime.

It can be that is a maximum level of crime that the public can endure while maintaining their composure. If total crime is above the level in general, then the public will complain loudly about the performance of the authority in tackling crime. If total crime is below that level, then maybe it will ease the public.

If it is indeed true that there is a ceiling that the public tolerates, then the question is not whether the total crime has been falling. The whole new hypothesis makes the point on declining crime statistics somewhat redundant. The trend itself becomes of little comfort to the public and is of little value in improving public sentiment with respect to crime and overall safety of self, their loved ones and property.

Instead of focusing on whether the crime rate has fallen — conditional on the truth value of the assumption of comfort ceiling — the relevant concern now takes a slightly different form. The question now is whether total crime has fallen low enough?

Taking the continuing public dissatisfaction within this new context, then the answer seems to be no. It appears that there is still some way to go before the public is satisfied with the level of crime within our society.

So, the alternative way to convince that public with issues regarding general crime is to identify the ceiling, compare the total crime to the ceiling and work towards pushing total crime below that.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malaysian Insider on August 3 2012.

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