Just as in US and UK, people feel crime is rising when it has actually fallen
WHEN it comes to crime, perception and reality are not always on the same page. Research shows that in many instances a person's perception of crime is greater than the actual occurrences. In fact, it seems that the fear of crime rises as crime rates drop. This is the case in the United States where annual Gallup polls show that most Americans continue to believe that crime is worsening despite a decline in the US crime rate since the mid-1990s. While crime rates in the United Kingdom have also been falling, the perception has remained, for many, that crime is rising. This also appears to be true for Malaysia. While index crimes decreased by 11.1 per cent last year and street crimes dropped 39.7 per cent from 2009 till last year, the majority of Malaysians remained worried about falling victim to crime, though the Taylor Nelson Sofres survey in May did show a 3.9 per cent decline in the measure of fear since December 2009.
What is clear is that people tend to base their perceptions on personal experiences and anecdotal evidence, direct and vicarious. When people have been victims of snatch thefts, live in a neighbourhood with a rash of burglaries, know someone who has been assaulted, or read about rapes in public places and robberies in shopping malls in the print, electronic and social media, the crime rate as captured in official statistics won't mean much to them. Indeed, following the spate of violent crimes, many will be hard-pressed to believe that we don't have a problem. So, while the perception that the frequency and severity of crime has increased has sometimes been blown out of proportion, and it may be very well to argue that perception is not reality as the numbers tell a different story, the fact is that there have been more than a few scary crime reports in recent months that have been quite disturbing. We certainly can't ignore the fact that there is a perception problem. As Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein rightly said, "we cannot be in denial any more".
That said, however, the situation is certainly far from hopeless or dangerous as indicated by the credible comparative data from the World Justice Project and the Global Peace Index. But the police must not rest on their laurels to make Malaysia as safe a country to live and work as possible. It is vital that the measures to deter and detect crime produce real changes on the ground in order to change the perception, and reality, of crime.