I WAS spending some vacation time in Singapore some months ago and my niece from Malaysia joined my family for a short holiday. While mingling at home, my son asked his cousin if she wanted to go the shopping centre across from where we were staying. Her reaction was an eye opener.
“Is it safe?” she asked, rhetorically.
Her reaction surely was borne of people's anxiety in Malaysia these days. Parents are more reluctant to let their kids go out and play compared with the time I was growing up in Kuala Lumpur. There was no second thoughts or apprehension of something untoward happening back then. Alas, the situation is very different today.
The perception that the streets, at least in the major cities where most of crime is committed, are unsafe is something that cannot be brushed off. To the credit of the Government, they are going to act on it but word of mouth and social media are channels of information a lot of people are forming their impression of safety issues these days.
And the images that are being burned in people's minds can have an economic consequence if not addressed speedily.
Crime has a cost. If your house gets burgled, you lose your assets and it will cost money to replace. Insurance policies can cover such loss but having such coverage will mean cash out of your pocket.
The second is the cost of maintaining adequate security. Back then, an iron grille on entry points into your home was a sufficient deterrent but today, there are added layers. People have to fork out money for alarm systems and monthly monitoring fees and, pay guards to patrol their neighbourhoods.
Then there are precautions people take. If perception is not addressed, people might feel it's unsafe to go out late at night for a meal, wonder if a particular shopping centre is secure and even limit their social interactions with friends if it means coming back home in the late hour of the day.
Such hesitancy can translate into a loss of business for shops and eateries.
That's how Malaysians can react and what about foreign investors who the country is trying to attract? At the moment, investments are holding up fine but safety issues are already resonating among the expatriate community in Malaysia.
Word will slowly seep abroad and once perception that Malaysia is unsafe influences decision makers of foreign investment, then there is a big economic loss to Malaysia.
Dealing with perception is actually equally important as bringing down the rate of crime. There is now one policeman for every 257 citizens and that is actually a high ratio.
The question is how are they being deployed and if the solution is to hire more policemen, then the economic cost to combat crime will rise. Ways to explore efficient policing should be exhausted before swelling the ranks of the men in blue.
Patrols on the streets should be more visible and frequent. In the past, the sight of policemen everywhere will give the impression of safety concerns. But in today's world, the more cops you see, the safer you will feel.
I bet a lot of us know of immediate friends and relatives who have been victims of crime. Until such conversations change to how effective policing is, and how much safer they are feeling, changing perception has a long and arduous way to go.