The good news for visitors to Kuala Lumpur is that they are extremely unlikely to be the victims of a serious crime such as murder or rape. The bad news is that petty theft, particularly “snatching”, is far more common.
Its most common manifestation is women’s handbags or purses being grabbed by pinion riders on motorbikes. Cameras and expensive phones are often targeted as well. Even if it is rarely accompanied by violence, it can still be a frightening experience.
Areas popular with tourists, including accommodation and entertainment hubs such as Bukit Bintang, KLCC, Chinatown and Brickfields, are particularly targeted by snatch thieves. A few general precautions should reduce the chance of being a victim of street crime considerably though:
– If at all possible, keep any bags or other valuables away from the edge of pavements;
– Keep purses or other valuables out of sight;
– Be extra vigilant at night;
– Keep handbags under your arms, not hanging loose on your shoulder;
– Walk towards rather than away from the direction of traffic;
– Carry as few valuables as possible;
– If a motorbike thief does snatch your bag, do not hang onto it, or you risk being dragged along the road.
Any crime should be reported to the tourism police, who have boxes dotted around central KL as well as a 24-hour counter at the Malaysian Tourism Information Centre. They speak English, and can give advice on how to deal with lost passports and credit cards.
It is worth remembering that KL is one of the safest cities in Asia. And if government statistics are to be believed, street crime has dropped massively over recent years. This is largely due to greater police visibility, even if many beat officers appear to spend much of their “patrols” sitting in Mamak shops.
It’s easy to be cynical about the crime-fighting credentials of the Royal Malaysian Police Force, especially given their reputation for corruption, and their heavy-handed tactics at opposition rallies. But when it comes to dealing with tourists, they are almost unfailingly polite and friendly. One major exception to this rule is if you are rude or aggressive towards them; staying polite and calm is highly recommended, unless you have a hankering for a night in a police cell.
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 31st March, 2012.