POLICING and cleaning up the Johor Baru city centre, which is one of the biggest cities in the country, is no easy task for the men in blue.

Johor’s capital, and also the southern gateway to Malaysia, can be described as being in a unique situation as it is still a mish-mash of old and new.

The past five years have seen Johor Baru transforming in a big way to cater to being part of the economic growth region of south Johor’s Iskandar Malaysia. Development has been on the rise and is changing the city’s landscape.

Attracted by the prospects of a lower cost of living and also a low-wage margin, foreign investors have been on the rise here as well.

Despite the current scenario that sees Johor Baru as a city geared towards modernisation, it still maintains some aspects of its negative past.

Parts of the main city area, which has grown organically, is still stuck to how it was in the 1980s, when Johor Baru was notoriously known as a sleazy border town.

However, now there is an increase of foreign migrant workers in the city. The main road of Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Tun Razak is a good example.

Located near the busy checkpoint with heavy traffic, hordes of money changers, black market street stands and mobile telecommunication outlets welcome visitors. Most of the businesses here caters to the foreign migrant workers. And with that also comes cheap entertainment and vice activities catering to the visitors and the migrant community in the city.

Somehow, these “underground” activities have also contributed to the crime rates in the city. From petty thefts to gang fights and also property thefts.

These are similar to the scenes of the 1980s Johor Baru and it seems like nothing has changed much. Somehow, the border town mentality has not changed as there is a huge demand for such services. Only difference now is that the main paying customers seem to be foreigners.

Johor Baru Selatan police chief Assistant Commissioner Sulaiman Salleh described Johor Baru as a challenge for any policeman. The 53-year-old career police officer said the city centre was a challenge for him and his men.

“The district police have always been aware of the problems that have plagued certain parts of the city, especially with regards to vice activities.”

Sulaiman, who has had senior stints as a deputy police chief and also as police chief in various districts in the country, said Johor Baru was the most challenging police district for him since he started his posting in January 2014.

Johor Baru Selatan police chief Assistant Commissioner Sulaiman Salleh describes Johor Baru city centre as a challenge for him and his men — TRP pic by Ben Tan
Johor Baru Selatan police chief Assistant Commissioner Sulaiman Salleh describes Johor Baru city centre as a challenge for him and his men — TRP pic by Ben Tan

Despite the challenges, he understands that the current vice problem in the city also co-relates with an increasing foreign migrant worker community.

“In addition to that, Johor Baru also has a roving community of locals from different districts and states,” he said when met recently.

A check in several areas here shows that Johor Baru has a strong attraction due to demand for late night entertainment, which leads to vice activities.

The police’s ongoing Ops Noda anti-vice operation of late is an effort by Sulaiman to curb vice activities in the district.

The operation covers mainly entertainment outlets, especially those that have VIP karaoke rooms and also health spas, in the city.

Based on the latest statistics from January to Sept this year provided by the Johor Baru Selatan police, Vietnamese nationals topped the list for women nabbed in the outlets with a total of 409 out of 846 women detained. This is followed by nationals from Thailand (184), China (122), Indonesia (96), Philippines (13), Myanmar (6), Korea (4), Taiwan (3), Nigeria (2) and Cambodia (2).

It is believed that the foreign women’s demand is spurred by demand from foreign migrant workers in the city centre.

Sulaiman said police believed that the city lacked a strong sense of community bonding which leads to proliferation of vice activities.

“The lax attitude of the city’s population need to change. There is an urgent need to strengthen the community, which in turn can assist the police as well,” he said.

And his observation on the idea of urban reform holds some water as Johor Baru’s community has always been divided and many are from other states that work here or across the Causeway in Singapore.

With many moving on to newer residential areas away from the city area, there is now a strong need for Johor Baru residents to take some pride in the city and take charge of it for a better future.

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