Tue | Apr 25, 2017

New police commissioner and the economics of crime

Published:Friday | September 19, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams hugs his wife Dr Ann-Marie Barnes shortly after his swearing-in on Monday, September 15, 2014. Dr Barnes is also a national security expert. Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Dr Carl Williams becomes Jamaica's 28th commissioner at a time when our country is going through a most difficult economic squeeze.

Many Jamaicans have no work and are in fear of losing the jobs they have.

Others, especially in Government but also in the private sector, have experienced and are experiencing salary cuts through outright salary reductions in the private sector, or by the effect of a 2009 salary cap - a cap which has been reduced about 45 per cent by the depreciation of the Jamaican dollar since it was instituted.

When people do not have cash to buy food and basic living requirements - the Government has cut spending drastically by its adherence to the IMF programme, and delayed payments across the board - many may have to turn to economic crime to survive.

Maybe more than any other commissioner in recent times, the learned Dr Williams will be doing a job that is as much affected by economic progress, or lack of it, as by government crime policies and his implementation of them.

The new commissioner will, of necessity, need to adopt a multi-prong approach to fighting crime. Luckily, his past experiences in transnational drug interdiction, degrading the various Jamaican scam networks across a multi-digital platform and products, and his hands-on operational management of MOCA, put him in good stead to confront corruption and crime in the JCF, the business community, the government ministries and agencies, and illegal activities by many citizens.

Unfortunately, when the Govern-ment does not pay its suppliers and contractors it is called 'delayed', and is not 'illegal'; when individuals and businesses are forced by low demand for their products and services, no revenues and uncollectable receivables, to delay property, statutory, corporation, GCT and any other such levy by the Government, it is called tax evasion and is illegal. The new commissioner will face this economic reality.

COST OF CRIME

Using regression analysis, the World Bank estimated in 2007 that if Jamaica could get its murder rate down to that of Costa Rica, the economic growth rate would increase by 5.4 per cent. At the time, Jamaica's homicide rate was 33.8 persons per 100,000 compared to Costa Rica's 8.1.

Jamaica's murder rate is substantially higher today - and therefore more costly in GDP terms.

This year, Jamaica was listed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as having the sixth-highest homicide rate in the world. Recent government and police announcements suggest that murders are on the decrease in Jamaica. The new commissioner is ushered in with this nasty statistic going in the right direction.

Before the World Bank's regression analysis-inspired estimate, Professor Al Francis and his colleagues estimated in 2003 the costs related to health, lost production and security expenditure incurred to fight crime as totalling 3.7 per cent.

Newspaper reports in 2013 said that Professor Anthony Clayton - also of the University of the West Indies - undertook a study for the Ministry of National Security in which he used data from the studies of Ward, et al, done in 2009.

Clayton identified productivity losses due to crime and injuries at 4.0 per cent of GDP which, along with the security costs by Francis, et al, would combine for a total loss of 7.1 per cent of Jamaica's GDP - according to the UWI professor.

Professor Clayton identified that "The inflection point in 1972-73 marked the beginning of the country's decline" in the policy report for the current Ministry of National Security.

Clayton went on to quantify the decades-long cost of crime to Jamaica. The accumulated cost over the past four decades ranged between US$8.7 billion and US$16.7 billion, according to Professor Clayton.

Everyone of us living in Jamaica pays a very high price for crime - in monetary, social and emotional terms. The police commissioner faces a tall economic target.

CLINTON-LIKE TWO FOR ONE

The commissioner is going to need help, and he could do well by starting at home. His wife, Dr Ann-Marie Barnes, is an expert on crime fighting and the police. She has spent a long time in the Ministry of National Security and, as Dr Peter Phillip's chief technical director when he was minister in her ministry, she had the responsibility for the implementation of the recommendations of the strategic review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force - the organisation which her husband now leads.

Later, Dr Barnes served as permanent secretary to the current minister of national security, Peter Bunting. In June 2013, it was announced that she would lead the Government's public-sector reform programme, but that did not materialise as she went back to lecture at her substantive post at a Canadian university.

Commissioner Williams knows very well what those of us who have conversed with Dr Barnes learn very quickly that she has a fine, fierce intellect, and enough backbone for a whole tribe. She has a lasting positive reputation in the public service as a doer.

Dr Williams is said to keep his own counsel and practises an almost stoic discipline. He is perceived to have an integrity made of hardened steel. He will need all those characteristics and more to make broad success his legacy as commissioner of police.

In hiring him for the job, Jamaica could get a solid two-for-one deal, in that we get the accomplished professional, Dr Barnes, his life partner, as well. Crime may be driven down and the economy could be looking up.

Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chair of the Opposition Leader's Economic Advisory Council.Email: writerhill@gmail.comTwitter: @HillaubynFacebook: facebook.com/ Corporate.Strategies