By Shahjanaz Kamaruddin
Gun crimes are being reported on a daily basis in the Malaysian media of late. Individuals going about their daily lives have been targets of assassination-style killings or victims of gangland-style shootings. The grim statistics of victims appear to be rising with no end in sight. The police are quoted as asserting that these killings are targeted and deliberate as opposed to random shootings. This has done little to reassure us, the public, of our safety. Even 24-hour “mamak” eateries, convenience stores and petrol kiosks are reporting a drastic drop in late night business.
The politicians and the police have been quick to conclude that the spike in gun crime is the direct outcome of the abolition of preventive laws two years ago, in particular the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 5, 1969 (EO) whereupon some 2,600 EO detainees of various criminal persuasions were released to the general detriment of the populace.
Others believe that the declining standards in policing have contributed to the situation. What is clear is that immediate action is necessary to reassure the public that the authorities have the situation under control. As such, a holistic approach covering areas of the law, policing and the criminal justice system should be considered.
As a first step the Government has announced the setting up of a Committee headed by PEMANDU tasked to draft new anti-crime legislation in time for it to be debated by the Parliament in September this year. Whilst reports indicate that its members would include the Home Minister, Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney General among others, it would be constructive to include other stakeholders such as MPs from the Opposition, the BAR Council and selected civic society groups. The hope is that this Committee would not just assess how to adequately empower law enforcement but also ensure checks and balances are in place.
Three Emergency Declarations were repealed in December 2011 as part of the Government’s agenda for political reform. It is uncertain whether sufficient preparation was made to deal with the possible consequences, especially in the monitoring of released detainees. Judging from the current circumstances, maybe not. The pros and cons of resurrecting preventive laws to tackle rising violent gun crime will have to be assessed. This is hardly the time for shallow and simplistic solutions.
There is an on-going debate about “reviving” the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA) which is enforceable only in West Malaysia. It permits arrests without a warrant whereby suspects can be remanded for 14 days and the remand extended repeatedly by a magistrate while an enquiry is conducted by an Inquiry Officer. Detention of suspects is subject to periodic review by a magistrate which human rights activists favour, unlike the EO and Internal Security Act. The police say the PCA lacks bite and this is illustrated by their penchant to rely on the EO. In the first 8 months of 2011 alone, 722 people were detained under the EO.
Pre-emptive police action is already permitted under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) which has a special Part IV on Prevention of Offences. The police are sufficiently empowered to intercept communication, investigate suspicious goings-on, interrogate suspects, search and seize evidence as well as detain people without warrant based on reasonable suspicion.
The Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 (SOSMA) similarly allows for preventive detention for up to 28 days and includes provision for judicial scrutiny of detention.
The Home Ministry has admitted that the police force is grossly understaffed with the police to citizen ratio of 1:700 compared to 1:35 in New York. Structural improvements are necessary to address training needs and remuneration. This would raise the level of professionalism in the police force and make it an attractive employer to talented jobseekers.
Increased use of innovative nano-technology is required for the police force to keep an electronic watch on criminals and suspects. The CPC, PCA and SOSMA can be supplemented or amended to authorize the use of electronic tracking devices, and their existing use in the US and Singapore could be studied.
Technology-based systems already exist to support any painstaking police investigations. The DNA bank set up in September 2012 already has 1,000 samples for identifying individuals. The Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) is used to analyse bullets and guns and is rapidly building a database.
The crime justice system is essentially information driven and unless information gathered through old-fashioned detective and intelligence work or high-tech means is properly shared and cross-referenced between the enforcement agencies, the criminals will escape detection.
A retired senior official from the Attorney General’s (AG) Office shared his view that prosecutors have to continuously maintain high standards to ensure a high conviction rate. In support of this the police have to improve their legal acumen to ensure adequate evidence is properly gathered.
He understands the need for preventive detention and urges that the equivalent laws in other countries be studied such as the Australian Crime Prevention Powers Act 1998 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 in the UK.
He reminds us of the need for the police to regain the trust of the general public. Regular campaigns should be encouraged between the police and residential communities.
Last but not least, border controls have to be tightened to prevent smuggling of illegal firearms.
Hardcore criminals deserve to be put behind bars, but only through due process. In the war against crime, society should not resort to bending the justice system for convenience.