As the Royal Bhutan Police celebrated their 54th Raising Day yesterday, it was a solemn occasion to acknowledge the contributions of the police force in maintaining the law and order and, by extension, public safety in our fast-changing society. More important, however, it was a moment to pause and reflect on the many emerging challenges and how we are reacting to them. Many questions arise.

With developments come challenges. In our case, as a late entrant on the path of modernisation, we were acutely aware that for us just to set the ground running would not be enough, that we would have to do some tall stepping to catch up with the rest of the world at the approach of the new millennium. We also knew that, in the process, we would be increasingly impelled to deal with the growing instances and changing definitions of crime and social well-being.

Although it was formally established only on September 1, 1965, on the command of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the need for a separate law enforcement agency was felt right after the planned socioeconomic development activities began in the country in 1961. Today, exactly fifty-four years since the establishment of the Royal Bhutan Police, where are we in terms of addressing the rising instances of crime and in ensuring public security in the society?

Looking inward, we have much to be proud of. Also, at the same time, there is much more that needs to be done.

Going by the statistics, instances of crime are growing, especially in the bigger and growing population centres. And there is the familiar pattern to it. Thimphu and Phuentsholing continue to be the leading centres of crime and, burglary; battery; larceny; offence of substance abuse; and illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are the most common criminal offences.

With the kind and rapidity of change that we are witnessing today, perhaps it can’t be helped. What is interesting and also worrying at the same time is that these crimes are committed mostly by young individuals who are either school dropouts or those who are looking for employment.

As youth unemployment continues to rise, the young people, in frustration, will increasingly resort to criminal activities for livelihood and survival. Without a well-structured support system and a safety net for those who are convicted, recidivism seems to be the natural and unfortunate eventuality.

Public safety and law and order threaten to be the biggest issue facing the nation today. Because social well-being is a shared responsibility, we cannot leave it entirely on the police to handle this growing problem in our society. Knowing who is susceptible to criminal activities and why and not doing enough to address these issues should make us all feel guilty.