Singapore crime rate at a 29-year-low

Posed photo of a man in handcuffs. Singapore has a worldwide reputation for being safe and latest police figures suggest the situation is improving further. -- ST FILE PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN  
Posed photo of a man in handcuffs. Singapore has a worldwide reputation for being safe and latest police figures suggest the situation is improving further. -- ST FILE PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN  

Experts cite better policing focused on the community, a wiser public

Many people here leave home without worrying about a break- in and leave personal belongings unattended without fear of theft.

Singapore has a worldwide reputation for being safe and latest police figures suggest the situation is improving further.

The crime rate - the number of cases per 100,000 people - has been falling consistently since 2005, reaching a 29-year low of 581 last year. This is a dramatic drop from 1,373 in 1992.

Mid-year figures released last month also showed a decrease in most common types of crime.

Housebreaking, commercial offences, theft and miscellaneous crimes, such as vandalism, all dropped. The cases of harassment and unlicensed moneylending have also fallen significantly over the last three years. However, there were slight increases in crimes against people, extortion and robbery.

Experts point to several major factors keeping crime rates down.

In recent years, the police have tried to improve their interaction with the community, particularly with their Community Policing System (Cops), which involves officers going out more frequently in more casual uniforms and using bicycles.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law Hri Kumar Nair cites the idea, introduced last year, as having made police "more in tune with the community".

He added: "Their presence is felt better, creating a deterrent effect."

Under the Cops scheme, police will install security cameras in lift landings and multi-storey carparks of 10,000 HDB blocks by 2016. More commercial tenants and home owners are also installing them.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said people could be taking better preventive measures. "For example, with regards to thefts, it could be that we now learn to better safeguard private property."

Mr Leong Hin Chong, sales director of security systems firm Stanley Black and Decker, said he has seen a 20 to 30 per cent increase in sales year on year, thanks to low prices and technological advancement.

As well as protecting against crime, residents are doing their bit to solve it. Police say about 40 per cent of major crimes are solved with public help.

Programmes like Citizens on Patrol also supplement the police. There are currently more than 600 such neighbourhood groups island-wide.

Mr Lionel de Souza, a former cop and a crime prevention ambassador for the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) of nine years, said: "Singaporeans have become more civic-minded, also providing a form of deterrence.

"Criminals may find it harder to do something and get away with it because more people are willing to jump in and help."

Vulnerable groups like the elderly are learning not to fall prey to scams while measures have also been put in place to try to prevent criminals from succumbing again.

Lawyers point to a more compassionate sentencing system introduced in 2010, which moved away from the "one size fits all" approach and placed more emphasis on individual circumstances.

Mr Amolat Singh said giving second chances may have made some offenders grateful, and allowed them to change.

"When fewer of these less serious criminals are being sent to jail, the chances of them meeting more hardcore criminals decrease," the lawyer explained, adding that a good rehabilitative system inside prisons also provides an environment for released inmates not to re-offend.

Latest available Prison Service figures released this year back this up, showing falling recidivism rates - involving people who commit an offence again within two years of their release from prison.

The NCPC, working with the police, also runs publicity and education schemes designed to keep crime down.

A police spokesman said: "Despite the downward trend in crime statistics, we are keeping a close watch over the overall crime situation.

Police will take all perpetrators of crimes to task and ensure they are prosecuted under our laws."

jalmsab@sph.com.sg