Indonesia faces rising motor vehicle theft in midst of economic difficulty

Rounding out the year is an increase in motor vehicle theft in Surabaya City. According to the Surabaya Police, in September and October alone, there were 101 cases at residential areas, offices, and places of worship such as mosques or churches. Mirzal Maulana, Adjunct Senior Commissioner of Police, said 59 suspects involved in 65 cases were arrested and awaiting trial. The police will be stepping up routine patrols.

Suspects in motor vehicle theft. Photo credit: Surabaya Police

Police chief Commissioner Akhmad Yusep Gunawan said some arrested suspects are teenagers and minors, and that they were recruited by ex-convicts who had been in prison for similar cases.  He added that the police are putting in extra resources and manpower to solve the remaining cases and to implement preemptive actions to deter similar cases from happening. He also urged the public to take precaution to secure their motor vehicles and to report any suspicious characters.

Recovered motorcycles at police compound. Photo credit: Surabaya Police

Dida, a journalist from Surabaya who had his vehicle stolen recently, said the current performance of the police was not up to standard.  He said in the past, several years ago, the police could solve a case in a fairly short time, using road blocks for example. 

However, now, based on his experience of reporting two unsuccessful motor vehicle thefts at the same location, which was in front of his office, he said the Surabaya Police lacked supervision and there was no meaningful effort, which led to a third attempt, which was successful and he had his vehicle stolen.

Maritime Fairtrade interviewed Abu (pseudonym), an ex-convict who committed motorcycle theft in Sidoarjo. The man, no longer a criminal and is now a mechanic, said dire financial situation is the most common motive for many motor vehicle thefts. The recent economic crisis has made it difficult for many people, especially ex-convicts, to find jobs. Abu said if given a chance at a job, nobody would want to be a criminal.

Motor vehicle thief caught on CCTV camera. Photo credit: Dida

“I think if the root cause of poverty still exists, then there will still be motor vehicle thefts. Finding work is difficult and becoming a criminal is the only way for us to feed our family. Many of us do not have a formal education or employable skills.  I am lucky that I learned how to be a mechanic during my time in prison. But not many are as lucky as me,” said Abu.

Motor vehicle thief caught on CCTV camera. Photo credit: Surabaya Police

Criminologist Indah Kusuma said she felt the rising fuel price contributed to the increase in motor vehicle theft.

“The rise in fuel price has clearly triggered a spike in the prices of commodities and basic necessities. Things are more expensive now, incomes are not keeping up and many people even lost their jobs during these difficult times. That’s why desperate people are turning to crimes. This is no longer just a police issue. The government has to address the root causes in order to fight crimes,” Kusuma said.

“According to my research in 2018, out of five victims of motor vehicle theft, only one chose to report to the police. The rest felt the police could not help them or fear that the police would ask for money to solve their cases. Therefore, I think the official crime rates are under-reported. There may be 500 cases of motor vehicle theft in Surabaya City from September to October.”

Motor vehicles in front of office building. Photo credit: Ibnu Wibowo

Top photo credit: Surabaya Police. Suspect in motor vehicle theft. 

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