Tue, May 23, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Better policing needed, not numbers

By Yeh Yu-lan

After Kaoshiung City Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) prohibited police from under-reporting crimes, many robberies have been reported, including one high-profile theft in which motorcycle-borne attackers almost hacked a woman's hand completely off in order to steal her handbag. Now everybody in the city has begun to worry about their personal safety.

Does the increase in robberies in Kaohsiung reflect a sudden deterioration of public safety? Or has it simply exposed underlying public security problems nationwide, which have been deliberately ignored or played down due to election considerations? Or are the rising number of robberies an indication that the police, during the year before the presidential election, had to devote so many resources to political activities and creating a good administrative record for their superiors that they had no time to investigate, much less prevent, crime?

Mayor Hsieh has very good reasons to get angry. He hit the nail on the head when he demanded the police administration stop under-reporting crime. As long as this problem exists, the police will be hard pressed to restore their image and public trust. What's more, there will be no hope of addressing the real problems in public security.

Police under-reporting decreased for a short time after triplicate case forms were introduced, but the problem persists for several reasons. One is that frequent election campaigns have driven the administration to paper over a deterioration in the social order. Another reason is that high-level authorities harbor the superstition that "numbers speak for themselves" and therefore set crime reduction deadlines just to prove their administrative capabilities during their tenure.

In addition, whenever a serious crime occurs, the police immediately announce a sizable reward for information, stress the heavy penalties due the law-breakers and then delegate high-ranking officials to lead the investigation. The officials usually put political concerns above professional ethics setting unrealistic deadlines for solving the case. Such measures have only harmed our social order.

Since the police administration still relies on numbers to evaluate performance, officers develop a "counter solution" to reduce the incidence of crime and raise case closure rates. They either choose to investigate certain cases in order to please those in power or gain some advantage, or they enlarge the scope of their operations when dealing with cases that are easy to solve.

However, in dealing with the average citizen, the police try to dissuade the actual reporting of crimes through poor attitude and service or by capitalizing on procedural mistakes. Officers also make use of the average citizen's unfamiliarity with the law to play down the gravity of serious cases.

In other words, the police are still an instrument of politics. The real situation with regard to the social order is unknown and the police fail to provide professional expertise. A growing lack of confidence in public order is the inevitable result.

Escalating violent crime is directly related to the levels of cruelty, frustration, anger and anxiety in our society.

Take the growing number of motorcycle-riding purse-snatchers. This type of crime actually reflects the failure of several public policies, including education reforms. The authorities are at their wits' end on how to deal with high school dropouts and campus violence. Concern about the future also fuels teen anxiety and anger. Poor family and social education, the loneliness and isolation brought about by the prevalence of the Internet and easily available pornographic or violent programs have also contributed to the deterioration of social order.

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