Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Editorial: Mr Williams’ whimsy

Published:Thursday | July 9, 2015 | 7:08 PM

CARL WILLIAMS was no doubt being facetious when he, this week, proclaimed for himself a perfect score for his performance in the 10 months he has been Jamaica’s police chief. It is the commissioner’s misfortune, perhaps, that this bit of whimsy has been interpreted as out-of-touch narcissism, for which he has been rounded on.

The public’s response is, in that sense, understandable. For despite whatever the commissioner says and the data show about other serious crimes, there were more than 600 murders in Jamaica in the first six months of the year, or an increase of 19 per cent when compared to the same period in 2014. What people fear is the reversal of last year’s 16 per cent decline in homicides and the one-third drop since 2010, which was built largely on the momentum of the Tivoli Gardens operation that routed Christopher Coke’s mob and, for a time, placed the criminals on the defensive. In the event, there are still more than 1,000 murders in Jamaica annually, and the island’s homicide rate, at nearly 40 per 100,000 of its population, remains among the world’s highest.

The immediate lesson for Commissioner Williams, therefore, is that, in analysing crime and criminality in Jamaica, he must be wary of irony, unless he’s being blatantly self-deprecating. Then he has to articulate credible and sustainable anti-crime initiatives, for which the public’s support has to be robustly sought.

We sense that the police chief is beginning an effort on the second element of our proposed strategy, in which he was engaged when a whimsically errant foot went awry. Last week, for instance, he appealed for active public participation in crime fighting and, on Monday, announced his plan to announce an initiative to recover guns in Jamaica. That scheme, apparently, will include rewards to citizens for supplying information. The other specific strategy disclosed by Mr Williams is to have more police officers on operational duty, particularly appropriating space usually occupied by criminals. Increased police presence in public spaces is expected to be a deterrent to crime.

BETTER COMMUNICATION NEEDED

While the commissioner may be on the right track in seeking to gain the public’s buy-in for his strategies and in attempting to build a big national coalition against crime, what this week’s distraction demonstrates is his need to develop and communicate a coherent message that rests on plausible strategies. Announcements to announce planned announcements won’t do.

The police will have a better chance at public buy-in if people are confident about what they are being asked to support. They must understand the policies from which strategies evolve and, in so far as possible, the tactics by which they are to be implemented. And they must believe that they are in a genuine partnership with the police. In that respect, Commissioner Williams has to work relentlessly at rebuilding public trust in his organisation by removing impunity and going after the corrupt, at whatever level they reside.

He also has to be creative in utilising the resources available to the police. For example, he should find ways to partner with private security companies to leverage, with little additional cost to the constabulary, the men and technology available to these firms.

All this requires hard work. Ideas and programmes have to be repeated often. But Mr Williams has to be careful not to conflate words and action.