THE study of crime focuses on its extent, fluctuations, trends and contributing factors, such as treatment, rehabilitation and prevention. Statistical methods and analysis have been used to explore, describe and understand crime.
A valid and reliable crime index is a scientific instrument of significant value. Unless we have a crime index that reflects crime trends, it is impossible to make findings of the relationship between crime and social problems. Changes in the rate of social mobility, ethnic and cultural diversity of social groups or in their economic or political life all impact crime trends.
A crime index is vital to gauge the efficacy of policies, particularly in crime prevention, criminal justice agencies and in rehabilitation and treatment of offenders.
A crime index must be based on its relevance to the overall scenario associated with crime and criminality. It must be based on the hypothesis that dependability exists over long periods.
The questions that confront us should be to what extent is the reported and recorded crime streamlined to needs? To what extent are reported and recorded crime, whether based on police, prosecution, judicial or correctional statistics, more likely to reflect positive trends?
A crime index should not be solely based on data that may have been manipulated, especially to reflect decreasing crime rates and to uphold the image of police and other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.
Over the years, changes in administrative style and policies have led to changing trends in the crime index. It appears the crime index used by the police does not satisfactorily address the needs of society and the fear of crime.
The crime index maintained by police has two categories: violent crime and property crime. There are also the Narcotics Crime Index, Commercial Crime Index and Non-Crime Index.
The crime index reflects crimes deemed serious, occurs frequently and draws attention, including murder, assault, robbery, snatch theft and theft of vehicles. The crime index is used by police officials and policymakers in press statements and presentations, as well as for planning, management and strategies. The Narcotics Crime Index focuses on drug seizures and arrests, while the Commercial Crime Index focuses on criminal breach of trust, credit card fraud and cyber scams.
However, policymakers, researchers and crime prevention activists have stressed that the crime index does not depict an accurate picture of crime trends in Malaysia. Since 2009, although crime rates have decreased, fear of crime remains high.
This problem can be addressed by reassessing and revaluating crime and non-crime indexes. Crime that draws public interest (even if the numbers reported are low) needs to be included in the indexes so that knowledge and awareness in society is based on facts, not assumptions.
Research Team on Crime & Policing, Universiti Sains Malaysia
This article first appeared on NST.