Right on police rationalisation
Peter Bunting may be given to communication faux pas and understating problems, like with his advice to Jamaicans this week that after last year's sharp drop in murders, they ought not to be "unduly alarmed" by the more than 18 per cent jump in homicides for January, when compared to the same month in 2014. It is a fault of which the security minister needs to be apprised and offered guidance towards change.
But that doesn't mean that Mr Bunting is entirely wrong in his assessment of Jamaica's crime situation, or on many of the policies he has outlined for dealing with the problem. For instance, he is right with regard to the broad principles he has outlined for the rationalisation of the police force, including assigning fewer cops to providing personal protection to officials, for which he has been criticised.
On the first point, this newspaper, like all well-meaning persons, celebrated last year's 16 per cent plunge in murders and hope that the outcome is replicated, or surpassed, this year. For, even with a more than one-third decline in criminal homicides over the past five years, Jamaica's murder rate of nearly 40 per 100,000 remains among the world's highest, a cause of societal fear and a deterrent to development.
randomness of crime occurrence
In attempting to assuage Jamaicans about January's hike in killings, Mr Bunting noted that despite last year's decline, there were two months in which murders spiked, "which points to the randomness in how these crimes occur". It is precisely because of that randomness that Jamaicans worry. Unlike the days when violence was largely linked to politics, its geographic occurrence was largely predictable.
Now, no one knows where the criminals will strike. And the decline in homicides and other crimes notwithstanding, the instrument of trade, the gun, though less used, remains primarily in the hands of the purveyors of crime. Downplaying these issues or sending mixed signals derogates from Mr Bunting's correct observation about the fragility of the performance and is potentially dangerous.
merging crime units
Nonetheless, we agree with Mr Bunting and the force's strategy of community-based policing and getting operational boots on the ground where they are needed, such as in the St Catherine North Division that was identified as the area accountable for Jamaica's increase in homicides. On the face of it, therefore, the merger of the Organised Crime Investigation Division and the Flying Squad and the rationalisation of other units with overlapping responsibilities makes sense, it frees up personnel for crime-prevention jobs.
We are struck particularly by the Protective Services Division, to which 544 officers are assigned, providing protection to VIPs, without, in many cases, according to Mr Bunting, any real security threat or risk assessment. Some end up becoming something akin to personal assistants to officials.
In the future, according to Mr Bunting, only the governor general, Cabinet ministers, the opposition leader and former prime ministers will automatically be assigned such protection. Given the low esteem in which politicians are generally held, there will be questions of whether all Cabinet ministers, even in the absence of risk assessment, should automatically have such protection. But the principle is correct: Get the police personnel in a position to prevent, detect and solve crime and more efficiently deploy the resources of the constabulary.
We may then begin to get a sustainable handle on crime.