The Expat Survey on Law Enforcement & Personal Safety in Malaysia

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In April we conducted an e-mail survey of readers, asking how they felt about security in Malaysia. Respondents were divided about whether crime was becoming a major problem in Malaysia, with slightly more people feeling it was a concern than our last survey. Despite this, the majority (73%) of respondents said they felt Malaysia was a safe place to live. We were surprised that 41% of respondents said they’ve been the victim of a crime. This may not be representative of the entire expat population, as people who have been victims are probably more likely to respond to the survey.


Most of the crimes committed against expats were purse snatchings. Quite a few also stated their homes or cars had been burglarised. Surprisingly, no one said they had their cars stolen, which seems to reflect a change from the situation a few years ago when car thefts were very common. One respondent said he was mugged when he took a taxi late at night, which transpired to be stolen by a drug addict who stabbed and kidnapped him. One New Zealand lady said, “Within one week of my arrival, I was given a security brief which changed my excitement (at moving here) to dread.” She has spoken to other expats who said the same thing, and her feeling after living here for eight months is that the concerns were overstated and unnecessarily frightening.

As in previous surveys, we asked expats to compare the situation in Malaysia with that in their own country. Purse snatching was seen as a continuing problem, with 79% saying it was a bigger problem in Malaysia than their own country. However, when it came to house burglary, the feeling was that the risk was only slightly higher in Malaysia, and one-third of respondents said they felt it was the same risk here as in their own country. As for random violence, most people felt the risk was higher or the same as in their own country. Even those who had been victims of crimes rarely suffered any violence in the hands of the criminals.

The Police

When it came to expats perceptions of police efficiency, it was clear they did not hold the local police in very high esteem. Only 8% considered the police to be efficient, a further 40% rated them as fair, while 51% felt negative about police effectiveness. When they reported crimes to the police, several expats mentioned they experienced a lack of professionalism. Some had problems because the police couldn’t speak English, while others claimed they got no response when they asked for assistance. One American lady complained the police smiled and did nothing when she asked if they could remove a homeless man who aggressively asked for money every time she crossed a bridge.

A Finnish respondent stated he felt part of the problem was the low salaries paid to police officers. A British expat, who also felt police compensation was an issue, contrasted the quality of the regular police with the efficiency of Special Branch, which makes him comfortable there is unlikely to be a terrorist act here. One female expat from Denmark felt the police only responded when there was media or government pressure. She cited the focus on snatch thieves after a public outcry and the substantially increased police presence whenever there are major international events. One expat remarked on how infrequently you hear sirens in KL versus other major cities, and worried it may be a shortage of ambulances.

Respondents continued to feel the risk of a terrorist act was low in Malaysia. This was consistent with our two previous surveys, when expats advised they felt safe in Malaysia. This time, just over half the respondents said they felt the risk of an attack was low. Only 10% felt there was a material risk of a terrorist attack. One French lady stated her relatives refused to take a trip to the East coast because of their concerns about extremists, which evidences the continued perception among some foreigners that Malaysia is not a safe place to live or visit. As usual, expats felt strongly that the quality of driving in Malaysia left a lot to be desired. An overwhelming majority (83%) felt the risk in Malaysia was higher than their own country. Only 7% felt the risk was higher in their own country.

When asked how expats felt about the religious raids that have been covered in the national press, the response was overwhelmingly negative. This is in line with previous feedback to our magazine from expats who had been present at religious raids, saying they felt very uncomfortable about the raids; in some cases, their Malay partners were arrested and advised not to mix with foreigners. Just under 10% of the respondents had not read about the raids, but of those that had, 81% felt it gave a negative perception of the country. Asked if they felt the raids created a negative image of Malaysia outside the country, an even higher percentage (85%) felt that it did. This highlights the delicate balance the country must consider when meeting the needs of those that feel they The Expat Survey on Law Enforcement & Personal Safety The Expat_53 have to enforce the rules of their religion with the Prime Minister’s stated desire to continuously improve the international perception about Malaysia. One expat was pleased that the public outcry reported in the local press appears to have resulted in the government restricting the powers of the religious enforcement officers.

In summary, most expats feel Malaysia is a safe country, where the risk of being hurt by a terrorist act or criminal attack is very low. In most cases, the crime scene here is not as bad as other countries. Women need to take care when walking alone with a handbag and keep it close at all times. They should exercise particular care when crossing a street or passing nearby to the road or a pathway easily accessible to motorbikes. People living in houses should seriously consider getting an alarm system.

It should also be noted that most of the people who responded live in KL, and several commented on how much better the crime and safety situation was than in the rest of the country. We suggest that those expats who choose to warn new arrivals about the risks balance their statements by ensuring people understand that, compared to most major cities, KL is relatively safe. In the last couple of years the police have been trying to improve their public image. This happens in many countries around the world. It seems that, as far as the expat community is concerned, they still have a way to go.

On balance the feedback is good, showing that even in a major city like KL, crime is not a problem that should cause people to feel afraid. As in every large city, acting sensibly and using common sense can reduce your risk of being a victim.




This article was written by Andy Davison
Source: The Expat May 2005 
This article has been edited for

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