Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jakarta: Safe, but how safe?

Jakarta is a safe city, crime statistics bear witness to that. Jakarta reported 78 murders in 2008.

Murder rates in most of other big cities in the world were far higher. Gauteng province of South Africa which hosts the city of Johannesburg and Pretoria, reported close to 4,000 murders in one year between April 2008 and March 2009.

In 2009 New York City reported 471 murders, London 126, while New Delhi 554 in 2008. Jakarta reported just 114 cases of rape in 2008. The corresponding figure for Gauteng was 18,176 sexual crimes. Meanwhile, there were 3.120 rapes in London, 832 in New York City and 466 in New Delhi.

Despite the low crime figures, I would not opine that everything is fine with the security scenario of Jakarta. There are serious matters of concern for Jakarta which I elaborate below and needs to be addressed in order to keep the city safe.

First is anger and frustration. One can perceive the lack of connection between the government of the metropolis and the city police with the people. In many ways the people are harassed by the poor civic services, the persistent traffic problems, inadequate public transportation, long commute time, lack of common public spaces and rampant corruption among street cops.

Above this, there is the growing number of slum dwellers in Jakarta accentuating the problem of urban divide and exclusion. Behind the smiling faces of the public, conditioned by centuries of culture steeped in rich traditions of politeness and respect and love for fellow humans, there is anger. Anger which reaches boiling point from time to time and runs amuck; shocking the world. The 1998 riots, 1965-1966 political violence bear witness to this.

Second is terrorism. Jakarta of late has seen some massive terrorist attacks. The hotel bombings combined with similar incidents in Bali have somehow given the perception to foreigners that, Jakarta is an unsafe city. While this perception may be wrong, the fact remains that terrorists have targeted Jakarta successfully and may do so in the future.

Law enforcement has responded efficiently with high success rates in operations by the Police’s special anti-terrorist unit, Detachment 88 and the successful convictions secured by the prosecution in prominent cases. Terrorism will remain a threat to Jakarta and countering it needs to be priority number one.

Third is the matter of faith and tolerance. More recently, Jakarta has also seen clashes of religious ideology between extremists and moderates, between religious factions and between the adherents of majority and minority religions. This is one area, which though highly political, law enforcement must adopt a neutral but firm stand or else a flare up could be quick and devastating.

The Metropolitan Police of London publishes figures on racist and religious hate crimes. The Police in Jakarta could also come out with such statistics.
Fourth is invisible crime. Jakarta, like many other big cities, has widespread invisible crime. By invisible I mean crimes that most people do not notice or do not care about. These crimes like drug trafficking, child labor, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, gambling, prostitution and copyright and trade mark violations goes on with impunity in the city.

Opinion also is that, law enforcement sometimes benefits from them and therefore protects it. Such crimes may not affect ordinary citizens directly but they have roots in transnational crimes and mafia groups that can and do assist terrorists and also constitute mobs and other lumpen elements during riots. If law enforcement does not address these invisible crimes, it cannot be as successful in addressing the other more serious ones.

Fifth is criminal justice response. Crime rate for historical reasons has been minimal in Jakarta. Full credit for the peace cannot be claimed by the government agencies. As with many cities, the people today depend on paid private security. Whether it is apartments, offices, banks or hotels, private security is ever visible. People are now moving into gated communities, safe enclaves and access controlled facilities within cities. The more the money, the more security people are able to purchase.

The performance of criminal justice institutions like the Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the courts have not been too good. Lack of public trust owing to poor integrity and accountability surrounds these institutions. Impunity for misconduct, corruption and highhandedness has contributed to the poor reputation and effectiveness of these agencies.

Inherently, they are causes for increases in crime and insecurity. Weak criminal justice responses beget crime. “Policing the police” in order to ensure peace security and democracy, needs to be a matter of priority.

Problems of cities especially regarding crime cannot be addressed by law enforcement alone. A multiagency response is necessary and has been successful in many cities. Municipal authorities and the various sectors of government, civil society and people need to work together.

Simple things like proper lighting in dark neighborhoods, better public transport in certain places, a citizen watch in some areas, community and neighborhood policing, better mapping of crime, consequent public and government responses, etc. have helped several cities. Jakarta must develop its own strategy, in partnership, to counter the urban crimes and ensure security in the future.

By Ajit Joy country manager, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Indonesia. Views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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