Ian Hayles | Send in the army
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the nature of criminal behaviour has been changing in Jamaica for some time now. The resources of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are stretched thin each day, especially as hotspots or flare-ups are spreading to communities once thought to be immune to crime.
Hanover is an illustration of the impact of this crime wave. The parish is experiencing historic levels of construction and development in tourism. Therefore, we have become more attractive to job seekers, many from urban parts, who come initially to work on a site but remain resident in the parish long after the project has ended. Perhaps they await job opportunities at other construction projects or have started a new family in the parish.
We are also in proximity to crime havens in the neighbouring parish of St James. The excellent highway network makes it easier, too, for migratory gangsters to launch attacks before beating a hasty retreat. In other words, the upsurge of crime in Hanover could be linked to itinerant gangs from other parts of western Jamaica or beyond.
As member of parliament for West Hanover, I am patently aware of the level of fear that paralyses many households. Mothers are crippled with worry until their sons, husbands and other loved ones return home each day. Even the sound of a balloon bursting in the night sends shivers down the spine of already-anxious citizens. It is unhealthy for anyone to live in this situation, especially now that it has become protracted.
I cannot accept this as normal. It is against this background that I recently asked for the authorities to send a contingent from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to arrest the crime situation in the parish. This is not an idle request, nor am I on a personal frolic. Residents recall that last year when similar levels of crime had been visited upon us, the military was deployed for several weeks.
NOT AN ATTACK ON THE POLICE
During that time, they were able to complement the human, technical and capital resources of the constabulary. Let me quickly record my confidence in the leadership of Area One and of the hard-working men and women of the JCF stationed across Hanover. Let no one opportunistically misconstrue my request as an attack on the calibre of men and women policing the parish. I have never questioned their competence or their commitment.
The point to understand is that the presence of soldiers on the ground increases the mobility of law enforcement to better cover the unique terrain which Hanover presents. The additional boots on the ground would free up investigators with the best intelligence-gathering skills.
More important, they can become more likely to share information with the authorities and further aid in the campaign to identify, locate, arrest, and successfully prosecute the perpetrators. All of us, as leaders, are very aware of the resource constraints the society faces. The time and costs involved to train and assign new recruits, build new stations, and procure and allocate additional vehicles are impediments to crime fighting.
The most practical solution, low-hanging fruit if you will, is the deployment of the members of the JDF to the area. Further to this must also be the provision of assistance from departments and agencies such as the Dispute Resolution Foundation, the Citizen Security and Justice Programme and related entities to provide the soft intervention. This allows the military and the constabulary to deal with protection, security and investigation in a joined-up approach.
It is appreciated that the original mandate of the JDF is different than that of the constabulary. It should also be appreciated that the situation in Jamaica in 2016 is very different than when both organisations were established. It is, therefore, my intention to sit jointly with the former minister of national security, Peter Bunting, to consider some propositions with a task force of stakeholders.
At an appropriate time, the results of that process will be made public as we honour our commitment to strengthen the levels of safety and security for Jamaica's citizens, our visitors and our investors.
Finally, while there is never a shortage of criticism of any idea advanced, let us share alternative proposals and not just shoot this one down. Enough guns are already barking. Let us silence them with the resolve to retake Jamaica from the wave of criminality.
- Ian Hayles is MP for Western Hanover. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.