City cannot take safe reputation for granted

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong prides itself on the safety of its streets. Residents and visitors can generally roam freely, day or night, without fear. A crime map of the city, therefore, might seem largely of academic interest.

The one we publish today, however, contains a few surprises. It decodes the overall crime statistics for 2005-06 and pins serious crimes to the districts where they happened. It does not discredit the perception that the city is safe, but it does show that we should not take this enviable reputation for granted. The map graphically illustrates the fresh challenges that have emerged for the defenders of law and order, even if the crimes concerned are not committed under the noses of senior politicians and bureaucrats, who are mostly based around Central.

There are no pleasant surprises for places which - perhaps unfairly given the density of their resident, transient and visiting populations - are identified with law and order problems. Wan Chai and Mong Kok, for example, still rate near the top of the table for violent crime and theft. But as the statistics show, they do not keep the police as busy as the northwestern New Territories district of Yuen Long, which reported an alarmingly disproportionate amount of serious crime last year. It has significantly more rapes and indecent assaults, wounding and serious assaults, and thefts - including robbery and burglary - than any other district.

Yuen Long is home to Tin Shui Wai, a deprived area known as the 'city of sadness' after a series of family tragedies that have outraged the community. It is tempting, therefore, to say the district's high crime figures are to be expected and to take comfort from efforts being made to deal with Tin Shui Wai's social problems.

But a district councillor and member of the area's fight-crime committee warns that, as soon as progress is made, new problems tend to arise, with immigrants of South Asian origin adding to crime rates and triad societies consolidating their hold in the New Territories and across the border. Chow Wing-kan still has faith that the crime rate can be turned around by strategies adopted by the police, and supported by local activists, to target crimes carried out by alienated youth and triad influence. They also aim to alert elderly people to the risk of criminal deception and fraud, among other initiatives.

In the absence of empowered local government able to give leadership to stressed communities, people like Mr Chow and civic-minded colleagues fill a yawning gap between the community and the police. They could help Yuen Long overcome its problems and become another example of Hong Kong's reputation for safe streets.

The government is also adopting policies which hopefully will have a positive impact on Tin Shui Wai. Voluntary groups there are to receive more funding, there are plans to develop land in the area, and the Housing Authority has put forward sensible plans aimed at building a stronger community spirit. It is to be hoped that better times lie ahead.

The figures also cover crime at the airport. Surprisingly, theft of baggage and personal belongings at Chek Lap Kok nearly doubled from 2005 to last year, while passenger traffic rose only 9.1 per cent. Police say air travellers are prone to be distracted from their belongings. That should be a reminder that policing is sometimes only as good as our own awareness of security of property and personal safety.