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NEIGHBOURLINESS: The best solution to curb crime in residential areas is to re-ignite the passion for Rukun Tetangga
THOSE of us in the generations pre-Gen Y remember days of carefree abandon, when we were safe and secure within our close-knit multiracial neighbourhoods. We careened along the streets in our bicycles and played our childhood games; the thought of being abducted, robbed, or worse, furthest from our minds.
Fast forward to present times; some things have not changed -- Madonna continues to show off what she should not to hapless concert-goers, but many things have. For one, residential areas in big towns and cities have turned into fortresses. And children don't know what it's like to tear around the neighbourhood with the kids next door any more.
A typical 7-year-old would likely be confined at home after school with the latest high-tech gadget for company. And it's not just the security of their children these parents are concerned about. Recent news reports would give an idea exactly what they are afraid of.
On Tuesday, residents of Taman Kepong in Kuala Lumpur expressed alarm over the cases of snatch theft, robberies and break-ins in the area. A housewife told this newspaper that she fell victim to snatch thieves twice in a week.
In Taman Subang Indah, Bandar Sunway, there have been four armed robberies in two weeks, a frazzled resident lamented.
Residents' associations in many other areas have decided to engage security firms to watch over their neighbourhoods so that everyone can sleep easy at night or spend the day working without worrying about coming home to a burglarised house.
Surveys have, however, shown that gated-and-guarded areas can create disharmony, anger and unhappiness, especially when not all the feelings of residents are taken into consideration.
Whether or not gating-and guarding manages to reduce crime, residents must note that barricading public roads is against the law. Unless the authorities surrender the road to the residents, members of the public have the right to drive on these public roads without being stopped and questioned.
In housing projects designed from the start to be gated-and-guarded, however, residents have the right to strictly secure their area.
But even if gated, how effective are the security firms recruited to guard the community?
I have come across many lone guards, usually foreigners, catching forty winks when I drove up. Jolted awake by the sound of my car engine, these guards would flash a cheery smile and wave me through as if they had known me since toddlerhood. Some firms are also known to hire guards of questionable repute, or those so frail they are capable of being felled by a strong gust of wind.
A far better solution is to promote the setting up of Rukun Tetangga (RT). The passion for it must be re-ignited.
As it is, there are only some 1,400 such organised groups, involving about 70,000 volunteers; hardly huge numbers considering the size of our population.
Neighbourhood watch groups have time and again demonstrated their worth in deterring crime. As its proponents have argued, RTs not just help make neighbourhoods safer, it binds residents together.
One former RT volunteer shared: “Thirty years ago, when I was 18, I remember going on night patrols.
“Although I was the youngest and always the odd one out because I was only one of the few Indians in the area, I really enjoyed doing my duty with the other folk, who were mainly Malays.
“Nowadays, we seldom hear of the existence of RT in kampung and housing estates. We should revitalise RT schemes around the country.”
Four years ago, a RT unit was set up on the street in Kampung Medan, Selangor where Sharlinie Mohd Nashar lived immediately after her abduction.
While better late than never, we shouldn’t have to wait for calamity to strike before acting.
It takes more than police presence to reduce crime. For police work to become more effective, the people must be involved. And the best people to be involved in ensuring the safety of a neighbourhood are those who live there.
If neighbours help and talk to each other more, and learn to care and watch out for each other when either one is away from home, there may be no need for gated neighbourhoods.
The onus is on residents to get actively involved and make the neighbourhood watch work.
Those who turn a blind eye to what is happening around them are not helping themselves or the community.