Saturday, June 14, 2008

Maximum Security Nation: Overeaction is Complacency's Ugly Cousin

I had previously written on the responsibilities of government’s and security agencies’ responsibility in maintaining a balance between being protective and intrusive. In lieu of Mas Selamat’s escape from the Whitley Road Detention Centre, I had argued that perhaps the personnel, those whom were empowered with custodial responsibilities, were found lacking on the latter front. I had also posited that a deeply-rooted culture of disempowerment and compartmental thinking has crippled to an extent the effectiveness of line-staff in dealing with contingencies effectively.

More recently, two men on robbery with hurt charges attempted an unsuccessful but audacious flight from custody whilst in remand at a lock-up in the Subordinate Court. Comparisons to the great “toilet break” by Mas Selamat are too tempting to resist but I shall nonetheless try. I would however like to remark on the reaction by authorities.

As the two assailants were brought back to answer to additional charges of assault and escape from legal custody, they were flanked by a proportionately excessive number (10) of policemen. In addition, police said that immediately after the incident, several measures were taken to enhance the security at the Subordinate Courts’ lock-ups (no details).

As a concerned citizen, I expect and even demand that adequate measures are taken to ensure our safety, be it from hardline terrorists all the way down to petty crime felons. However, I hope the need to appease such concerns in a perceptible manner are not clouding the responses of the authorities.

I do not wish to see the day when, out of fear of embarrassment from another potential flight from custody, all persons held under police remand are treated like inmates at a maximum security facility. The World Consumer Rights’ Day protesters would surely agree. The temptation is however there, as understandably the Government is jittery over public perception following the immensely damaging and embarrassing incident of Mas Selamat’s escape.

Security and law enforcement personnel serve two primary purposes; prevention and reaction. No government or agency in the world can lay claim to being able to prevent acts of terrorism, crime, corruption, and so on, 100 percent of the time. Mistakes can happen and often do. The litmus test of governmental and societal resilience is in the response, the reaction. Over-reaction sometimes can be more damaging than doing nothing at all.