Reviving community policing
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TWO years after the nationwide revival of the neighbourhood watch programme, more people are joining the fight against crimes but it remains to be seen whether the neighbourhood watch can sustain public interest to ensure effective crime prevention.
February 2016 figures provided by the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) showed that 1,508 people and 108 villages have signed up to become members of crime prevention groups in the country. There are about 170 villages in Brunei.
The numbers have risen compared to 1,162 people and 94 villages participating in the crime watch in March last year.
According to a 2006 study by the University of Glamorgan, the neighbourhood watch grew out of a movement in the US during the late 1960s to promote greater involvement of citizens in crime prevention.
Looking at 18 studies conducted in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia since 1977, authors of the study concluded that neighborhood watch programmes resulted in an average of 16 per cent drop in crime, but acknowledged that results can vary between communities.
RBPF’s Deputy Superintendent Hj Mohd Noor Hj Abd Rahman, secretariat of the neighbourhood watch, said the programme has been effective in deterring crimes in Brunei as district police reported a decline in cases.
Citing Belait as an example, he said the district police reported decreasing crime rates in Seria, Sg Liang and Labi last year as a result of the neighbourhood watch.
DSP Hj Mohd Noor said the programme’s secretariat requires all district police to submit monthly reports, which will determine aspects of the neighbourhood watch that can be further improved.
However, he added that the biggest challenge is to encourage more youth to participate in the watch as majority of the volunteers are veterans.
“Youth probably have the mindset that this programme is for veterans only. So we are still trying to figure out ways to invite and encourage youth participation in the programme.
“As our visionary generation, youth should offer to help with the programme, instead of us approaching them as this is for the security of their own neighbourhood,” he added.
Yang Berhormat Hj Mohd Shafiee Ahmad, a Legislative Council (LegCo) member and village head of Lumut I, said the crux of the problem is in maintaining momentum as active volunteers remained far and few between.
While his group has met the minimum requirement of 20 members, lack of commitment is preventing them from conducting more patrols to tackle crime in the village.
To address volunteers’ waning interest, proposals were put forward during the previous LegCo session, ranging from financial incentives to insurance protection - in addition to in-kind incentives, such as logistics support provided by RBPF.
It is unclear whether further discussions on incentives have taken place since and if any of these proposals materialised, but the outlook is increasingly bleak.
With the global oil price crisis leading to a financial downturn and a projected $2.3 billion budget deficit in Brunei, YB Hj Mohd Shafiee does not expect the issue of incentives to be raised again in the upcoming LegCo session in March.
Despite the hurdle, he is among the few determined to keep the neighbourhood watch alive by roping in the participation of the youth.
“These volunteers are mostly veterans with only two or three youths participating in the programme,” he said, stressing more awareness about crime prevention groups were needed to promote public support and understanding.
The village head said many parents were still reluctant to allow their older children to participate in patrols and other crime prevention efforts.
Although steps have been undertaken to allocate slots for youth, particularly students, during weekends or holidays to avoid disrupting their studies, YB Hj Mohd Shafiee said “we have yet to (see) success from this”.
Through increased understanding, he hoped the public will eventually realise the benefits of the neighbourhood watch programme in protecting their safety.
Meanwhile, the overall crime rate in the sultanate increased by 5.9 per cent from 2012 to 2014 with “crime against property” topping the list of offences.
A study by Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), published in Medwell’s Social Sciences Journal earlier this year, said the country is moving in the right direction but more efforts were needed to involve the community in fighting crimes.
The authors said security personnel and members of the public should play a more active role in helping to lower crime rate.
“It is the duty of security personnel and members of the public to report suspected criminals or crimes to the legal and justice institutions for action.
The laws should be supported and given a chance to work for a safer Brunei,” the study added.
Faced with budget cuts and rising crime rate, will the neighbourhood watch programme fall dormant once again?
The Brunei Times