Mon | Mar 19, 2018

Editorial: Fixing crime Rio style

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2016 | 12:00 AM

It's grim reading:

- That with more than more than a 1,000 murders a year, homicides in Jamaica are similar to the United States absorbing a 9/11 magnitude terror attack each week;

- That between gang violence and domestic murders, Jamaicans proportionately kill eight times more people than protagonists in the world's hottest war zones;

- That a Jamaican at home is 15 times more likely to be a victim of a murderer than to die in an earthquake;

- That 61 per cent of the country's murders go unsolved;

- That of the 39 per cent that are 'cleared-up', up to a third are killed in reprisals;

- That only five per cent of the criminals are convicted; and

- That crime costs Jamaica an estimated 7.5 per cent of the potential value of its output in goods and services annually.

But the greater relevance to the data highlighted by Professor Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at a round-table discussion with this newspaper last week is not that they are bad, but that the crisis they represent is fixable. And without the need to reinvent the wheel.

Indeed, there are relatively successful models in countries that have similar problems of crime, which can be adjusted to fit Jamaica's circumstances. Professor Clayton's project of choice is the one being used in the favelas of some of Brazil's cities, particularly Rio de Janeiro, called the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP).

Brazil, with a population of over 200 million, records over 60,000 homicides annually. Over the past decade, its homicide rate has remained at a stubborn 32 plus per 100,000. Most of those killings happen in the country's slums, or favelas, where decades of absence by the state left vacuums that were occupied by parallel institutions, including criminal gangs. It is not unlike what has happened in some of Jamaica's inner-city communities.

Rio de Janeiro state, however, has bucked the trend.

Since 2000, its murder rate has declined by more than two-thirds, and by more than half, to 24 per 100,000, since 2005.




Much of the improvement has been credited to the UPP, launched in 2008 by Rio's then governor, Sergio Cabral and the city's mayor Eduardo Paes. The programme is something of a mixture of shock and awe to displace the criminals, followed by the winning of hearts and minds through soft hands policing, aimed at creating an environment, physical and psychological, in which people can get on with their lives.

The pacification of a community starts with the entry of a police special operations battalion - roughly analogous to Jamaica's Mobile Reserves - with the aim of displacing gangs and other criminals. They are then followed by UPP units, usually made up of relatively new graduates, who are less likely to have the issues of trust of older officers.

Their job is to engage in a kind of policing that emphasises social engagement, and the creation of circumstances in legitimate economics is possible. It is the kind of project for which there was an opportunity, which was mooted, in Tivoli Gardens in the aftermath of the operation to capture Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

That window closed because of the failure of will and sustained policy action. That doesn't mean that there aren't other opportunities. We just need the will to grasp them.