Low crime vs. no crime

Following the recent double murders in Kovan and the shocking arrest of a policeman, the anxiety level of Singaporeans about the homicide rate may have just gone up a notch, and to some extent there may also be concern about the quality of our police force. After all, Singapore is renowned for being one of the safest countries in the world!

According to children’s aid agency Save the Children, Singapore is the safest place to be born and the best place to be a mother in Asia.

But as we were all told when growing up, “low crime doesn’t mean no crime”; homicide cases in recent memory have gripped the nation more and more often. I’m sure many Singaporeans recall the senseless murder of Darren Ng at Downtown East by 10 youth gangsters in 2010 and in broad daylight.

Or who can forget the Clementi Woods Park murder of Celine Ng in 2011, whose long-time friend and flatmate Ang Soo Hoon, a former derivatives trader, was accused of being the perpetrator? Or the triple murder in Yishun in 2008 where Chinese national Wang Zhijian knifed his lover, her daughter, and their flatmate, as well as viciously attacked the flatmate’s daughter with the intention of killing off any witnesses?

Of course these were only the high-profile cases. How many more gruesome things are happening out there that we’re not even aware of?

So has Singapore’s murder rate really gone up over the years, or is that just an impression left on Singaporeans as a result of heavy media reporting on homicides, which are actually far and few between?

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Singapore’s homicide rate is the fifth-lowest on the planet with only 0.3 killings per 100,000 people. Contrast this with countries like Honduras (which at 9.16 murders for every 100,000 people is the highest in the world) and Myanmar (which at 10.2 slayings per 100,000 is the highest in Southeast Asia) and you get a more balanced perspective on things.

In fact, statistics on the Singapore Police Force website indicate a downward trend since 2009 for ‘Crimes Against Persons’ (which, according to the Singapore Police, “refers to crimes where the victim suffers bodily harm as a result of the crime”) and a drop in the number of murders since 2008.

In 2008, there were 4,393 reported cases of ‘Crimes Against Persons’, including 25 homicides. In 2012, there were 3,811 cases, including 11 homicides.

That’s a significant drop in crimes of that category by 13% overall and by 56% for murders – all within just four years.

Year Crimes Against Persons Homicides
2012 3811 11
2011 3969 16
2010 4177 19
2009 4422 *Figure unavailable
2008 4393 25
2007 4113 18
2006 4103 17

[Source: http://www.spf.gov.sg/stats/stats2012_asafersingapore.htm]

Despite the fact that Singapore has actually become safer over the years, why then all this paranoia about Singapore becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live in?

For one, mainstream media can be blamed for causing anxiety as they have not spared efforts in reporting on murder cases – including every tiny detail and even going to the extent of reporting on the emotions of relatives and close friends at victims’ wakes.

Such unnecessarily invasive reporting of murder cases also stems from the fact that homicides are so uncommon in squeaky-clean Singapore that any new case is automatically met with great interest.

The explosion of social media has also enabled netizens to take their water cooler talk online, and speculate on the homicides.

Information – be it the truth or simple speculation – can be spread easily via forums and social media networks. The creation of this so-called hyper-reality may perpetuate any unfounded anxiety and lead people to believe that Singapore has become less safe than before, when in fact it is the opposite.

That’s why I’d like to take a moment to remind you:  don’t be alarmed by everything you see in the media!

The media landscape today is such that we are growing saturated with many publications competing for readership, so it’s not uncommon for them to heavily emphasise on crime reports to attract and keep readers.

As some studies have shown, repeated exposure to such coverage can definitely distort our perception of safety.

While indeed “low crime doesn’t mean no crime”, let’s not get unnecessarily paranoid. Read and watch all you want but remember to keep calm, and carry on!

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