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Editorial: When the police chief opens his mouth ...

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2015 | 5:00 AM
Commissioner Williams offered far less than logical reasons why he is not overly worried...

We appreciate that Carl Williams, the commissioner of police, means well. But there are more credible ways of assuaging Jamaicans and calming their fears over galloping murders than talking sop, which was the essence of his offering last week.

Of course, the recent statistics have to be placed in a context. Over the past five years, murders in Jamaica have declined by more than a third. The homicide rate is down from 63 per 100,000 population, to 37 - a fall of over 41 per cent.

These changes, in any circumstance, are significant. But in absolute and relative terms, Jamaica remains in the top tier of the world's most murderous countries. One thousand and five people were killed here in 2014, the highest nominal figure among its Caribbean Community peers. Indeed, Jamaica's murder rate is five times Barbados' and three times that of Haiti and Antigua & Barbuda, and upwards of 10 per cent higher than Trinidad and Tobago's.

 

gang culture

 

Such comparisons apart, while they welcome and embrace the fall in homicides, including last year's drop of 16 per cent - after a four per cent rise in 2013 - Jamaicans are aware that the trend is fragile. The social, economic and political circumstances that gave rise to gangs - who the police blame for much of the country's criminal violence - have not been significantly altered despite the shift in the strategic dynamic after the 2010 operation in Tivoli Gardens that disrupted the operations of major gang boss, Christopher Coke, and his subsequent extradition to the United States. Moreover, the guns have largely remained in the hands of criminals. Gangs have been splintered, reformed and restructured.

Jamaicans, therefore, have real cause to be frightened about the 18 per cent increase in murders in 2015, up to May 19. And Commissioner Williams offered far less than logical reasons why he is not overly worried and, by implication, why they should not be.

"If it was happening over a much longer term, then we would really have a problem," he said. "But it is only five months ... ; we are not yet halfway through the year." If we take Commissioner Williams' argument to its logical conclusion, five months of the year for crime-calloused Jamaicans ought not to be sufficient to suggest a trend about which they should be worried.

 

not a national problem

 

The head of the constabulary then makes the astounding remark that the increase in murders is "not a national problem" since the spike was largely confined to four police divisions - St Catherine North, St James, Westmoreland and Clarendon. While Commissioner Williams did not disclose the specific areas in these divisions where the murders occurred, they are in parishes with nearly 1.1 million people, or more than 40 per cent of Jamaica's population. So, this increase affects a wide swathe of the population, and its impact, we insist, is being felt well beyond the geographic boundaries of the police divisions. Further, if Commissioner Williams thinks about it, the horror of this increase would have been worse were it confined to a smaller population group.

The police chief, however, did say something sensible. More police are being deployed to hotspots, including some reassignments from desk jobs and other areas not so critical. But he should have been doing that all along.