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Editorial | Why exasperation with the police chief

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Carl Williams, the police commissioner, no doubt understands why so many people are exasperated with him, and the constabulary generally, especially since his remarks in Montego Bay last week about the limited capacity of the police force to fight the crime wave in that city and the parish of St James, of which it is the capital.

Indeed, so infuriated did he make Charles Sinclair, a councillor in St James' local government and former mayor of Montego Bay, that he demanded Dr Williams' resignation.

The police chief will, perhaps, explain that he spoke in short-hand. And many people may agree with his broad analysis of what is required for a permanent fix to Jamaica's chronic problem of violent criminality.

However, people believe, and not wrongly in our view, that things have, sometimes, to be accomplished in stages and that there are short-term interventions that ought not to be beyond the capacity of the constabulary. In the event, what many people interpreted, maybe unfairly, in the commissioner's statement was defeatism - a declaration that citizens are on their own in confronting a pervasive and growing monster.

The issue here is that while the police have been claiming sharp drops in serious crime, the one by which most people judge their personal, and the society's, well-being - homicide - has been on a sharp uptick, reversing a four-year trend after the 2010 security operation in Tivoli Gardens that dismantled the infrastructure of the crime boss, Christopher Coke.

Over the period, the number of murders decreased by more than a third, and the homicide rate dropped from more than 60 per 100,000 to under 40. Last year, the number of murders jumped by 20 per cent to around 1,200, and so far this year has been racing at a rate as to outpace the 2015 jump.

Moreover, the geography of this criminality is shifting away from the usual metropolitan crime centres of Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon, to some rural parishes, mostly in the western section of the island, including St James, which is also the hub of Jamaica's important tourist industry.

The police blame this increase on so-called lottery scammers - fraudsters who wheedle money from susceptible foreigners who are told they have won prizes but have to cover upfront costs before redeeming the rewards.

 

ACTION NEEDED

 

Whatever the cause of this upsurge in crime, most Jamaicans believe it demands urgent action by the security forces, perhaps a state of emergency, whose efficacy they associate with the post-Tivoli drop in crime. But Commissioner Williams' question was: "After this is done, then what?" He added: "The problems are not going to be fixed by a state of emergency, or any significant police action, because they are social problems, and they will have to be fixed socially."

What many people perceive in this is a man without answers; of the police chief throwing his hands up in the air. Which we do not believe to be the case. More likely, he didn't elaborate enough.

In any event, as Dr Williams appreciates, there are policing models of social intervention working in tandem with, or following efforts of, pacification in circumstances of untrammelled criminality. The Police Pacification Units in Rio's favelas are examples whose successes can be followed, without replicating their faults.

We can't wait until all the resources are available to fix Jamaica's social ills before tackling the one that will ensure that they never are.