Dave Avran has turned to social media to fight crime in Malaysia. The founder of Malaysians Against Rape, Assault and Snatch (MARAH), a new Facebook group, Avran is just one citizen heeding the advice of law enforcement agencies to take a proactive role towards curbing street crime.
MARAH has more than 2,500 members and contains posts with victims' experiences, as well as graphic images of bloody assaults, which are aimed at creating awareness for safer streets, car parks and neighbourhoods, and help identify perpetrators.
"Understandably, there is a lot of anger towards the perpetrators for the mental anguish and physical harm they have caused," said Avran, referring to the group's acronym, which means "angry" in Malay.
In addition to loss of money, valuables and identification documents, many victims of robbery report serious injuries. A recent case in Malacca resulted in the death of Tang Mui Choo, a 35-year-old clerk.
According to The Star, Tang, who succumbed to head and rib injuries, was on her way to work when thieves grabbed her handbag from the front basket of her motorbike, causing her to lose control of it.
Four men in their teens and 20s have been arrested and placed under remand pending investigations. All tested positive for methamphetamines. Superintendent R. Gunarajan, deputy chief of Malacca Criminal Investigation Department (CID), said the suspects are believed responsible for some 15 house break-ins and snatch-theft cases in the state since last year.
But many perpetrators remain at large.
Corporal Mahathir Mohamed of the police station in Sri Sentosa, a residential area in the business district of Jalan Kelang Lama in Kuala Lumpur, advises the public to exercise both vigilance and caution.
An accurate description of a perpetrator's physical appearance and vehicle registration number can go a long way, but shock prevents many victims from recalling the simplest things about the criminal, Mahathir said.
"But crooks are getting smarter. They are known to use fake number plates to escape detection," he said.
Mahathir further said motor accessories shops retailing number plate stickers should have a proper registration system set up to track such purchases.
Only a handful of criminals will strike the same place twice, but an alert and swift-acting public would likely help with their apprehension as they will stay within the area for up to an hour if they don't get enough of the loot.
"Ninety-five percent are unemployed drug abusers who rob to sustain their habit. For some, the prospect of 'easy money' is a motivating factor, as past arrests have found snatch thieves with as much as RM30,000 ($9,400) in cash, the total of a day's spoils," Mahathir said.
He says street crimes can take a seasonal pattern, similar to the fruiting season, with the highest rates being reported near festive holidays.
At the Parkson Department Store in Plaza OUG, Assistant Manager Rohani Ismail says the store just spent some RM50,000 ($15,700) on a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, which resulted in the apprehension of a 17-year-old dropout who had snatched a handbag from a female customer in the store's bathroom.
While the neighbourhood department store has been free of violent incidents, Rohani said they have an on-going battle with shoplifting.
"They are hard to recognise because they change disguise constantly," she said of shoplifters. "But after 25 years, I can tell by body language if someone is a genuine customer.
Escort service for female shoppers is available upon request. Though the store closes at 10pm, the car park has 24-hour security. Guards practice a clocking system every two hours to keep out vagrants and drug addicts who have stolen drain gratings and wires from the complex in the past.
Citizen vigilance may be paying off. The News Straits Times reported a 40% reduction in street crime in 2011. The statement is supported by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar, who said the 157,891 cases reported last year was down compared to 2010.