The battle between crime and the perception of crime in Kuala Lumpur

police in kl

Do you know that KL is now a much safer city than it was five years ago? Do you also know that, like most people reading this article, you probably won’t believe that?

According to the recorded crime index, crime in KL has dropped by 40 percent in the last five years, yet in an informal survey of 25 participants, 40 percent of respondents feel fairly concerned about safety in KL, and 72 percent don’t trust and are unsure of government statistics. In fact, many people living in Malaysia believe that crime is on the rise. Why is there a big gap between reality and perception?

The ‘dark figure’ of crime in Kuala Lumpur

One reason is the belief that not all crimes are reported. In reality, there are probably more crimes than we know about. According to a 2014 Crowd Sources Survey published in The Star, 25 percent of crimes experienced by the public were not reported to the police.

This statistic is also known as the ‘dark figure’. Victims may not report crimes for a number of reasons: privacy, inconvenience, perceived lack of importance, fear of reprisal and so on. While most serious crimes, like property break-ins, car thefts etc., are usually reported, petty crimes are sometimes not. Petty crimes are therefore likely to have a higher dark figure.

What’s important is the ability to see the trend of crime and it is clearly declining

It’s worth noting that the dark figure is not included in the recorded crime index. This should not be a reason for concern because this measurement of crime is consistent and has been observed the same way for years. What’s important is the ability to see the trend of crime (in this case, the trend of actual recorded crimes) over the years and it is clearly declining.

Be vigilant

Even with crime declining in KL, it’s still important to remain vigilant at all times. Datuk Dr. Amin Khan, Director of Pemandu’s Reducing Crime, National Key Results Areas (NKRA), says, “It is good to be pragmatic about the environment we are in. It is safer to lock your car doors and be vigilant as crime happens when we give the opportunity for them (perpetrators) to strike.”

In fact, in our survey, 92 percent of people take precautions when out and about, such as locking their car doors, wearing minimal jewelry, clutching their purses, etc. This comes as no surprise since their perception of crime is high.

crime in kl 2

Another factor that influences perception is news and social media. We live in an age where ideas, news and information can spread like wildfire, be it good or bad, accurate or not. Sadly, bad news tends to travel faster than good news. As the saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.”


In a survey carried out by Frost and Sullivan in Malaysia in 2014, just over 50% of respondents reported a higher fear of crime due to exposure of traditional media. So not only do people depend on media for information, they also form an opinion on what they see and hear.

Some advice from Dr. Khan

Dato Dr. Khan says, “We make judgments based on crime events known to us from social media, news, friends, and what we witnessed personally…we generalise our feeling to equate to overall recorded time.”  So how can we feel safer?

crime in kuala lumpur

Dato Dr. Khan explains, “It is our direction, going forward, to make the people feel safe. To do this, we put emphasis on community engagement and policing together with the community. This consists of two components – communication and engagement with the public. The public needs reassurance and the police must gain the public’s trust.”

He suggests two things to make people feel safer and to reduce number of recorded crimes:

  1. Focus on crime prevention by working together (public and police).
  2. Communicate, communicate and communicate!

By communicating we can help discern fact from fiction and perception from reality. Reading this article should also help you feel safer, now that you know the big gap between perception and the reality of crime. Hopefully, you’ll be one of the few who believe we’re living in a safer KL!

For more information on crime prevention, please visit United Against Crime 


Gerald Wee Eng Kian

Less petty crime, more major crimes. Assassinations in broad daylight now a weekly affair.

Expat Go Malaysia

That sounds quite extreme Gerald?!

Gareth Jones

It’s not reserved for KL or Malaysia. In the US and UK all crime has dropped dramatically since the 1980s but perception surveys says everyone thinks it’s increasing. It’s not even the police fiddling arrest numbers because the UK uses the crime survey too which asks people if they have been a victim at all, reported or not.
Maybe it’s as we get older we get more fearful.

Expat Go Malaysia

Maybe the internet helps to spread our fear more, too, Gareth? Thanks for commenting 🙂

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