Editorial | Fighting crime: Denham Town meets Rio
For the people in search of initiatives with which to combat the problem of violent crime in Jamaica's inner-city communities, there is no need for a reinvention of the wheel, as a former security chief, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, reminded last week. We accept, though, that the design may have to be tweaked here and there to deal with contemporary and specific circumstances.
Admiral Lewin had long experience at the apex of Jamaica's security apparatus. He served as chief of defence staff (CDS) and, therefore, head of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF). After that, he became the police chief and was in the job when the Americans requested the extradition of the Tivoli Gardens politically connected gangster, Christopher Coke, whose attempted arrest, after nine months of government delay, led to violence between Coke's militia and the security forces, with consequences that, more than half a decade later, are still being analysed and quantified.
By the time of the Tivoli Gardens operation, Admiral Lewin had left the constabulary, but seven years earlier, as chief of defence staff, he had engineered an initiative in nearby communities, which was neither sufficiently sustained nor replicated, including in Tivoli Gardens after Coke was dislodged, his henchmen in disarray and a gaping power vacuum had opened in the community.
He explained at a discussion on crime at this newspaper's offices: "The JDF went into Hannah Town in 2003 to try to do something. We spent 18 months, and every week we opened up boundaries. We took over all of Denham Town, and there was not one major crime in Denham Town and Hannah Town in those 18 months." The JDF did not act merely as an occupying force. Soldiers worked with government agencies, NGOs and the private sector to support people involved in enterprise or seeking education and training.
The significance of this initiative was not only its success, though short-lived. There is also the resemblance to Rio de Janeiro's ongoing project in the Brazilian state/city's crime-riddled favelas, which, though not without critics and blemishes, has reaped success. Astonishingly, Admiral Lewin's effort was launched five years before Rio's public security secretary, Jose Mario Baltrame, with the support of then governor Sergio Cebral, initiated the so-called Police Pacification Units, or UPPs.
Under the Rio scheme, an elite police battalion moves into communities to drive out drug dealers and other criminals and, over time, having gained control of the community/area, bringing it back under the control of the state, the UPPs move in for the long term, a mandate for full-throated community policing. There are now 38 active UPPs in Rio, covering more than 270 communities. Critics say they do not always work, citing examples of conflict and tension between residents and the police.
However, while Brazil, as a whole, with more than 58,000 killings last year, has a homicide rate of 36 per 100,000, in Rio it was 18.6, the lowest in a quarter of a century and half the 37.8 of 2007, the year before the launch of the first UPP.
Professor Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies at Mona has studied the Rio project. Admiral Lewin implemented a similar idea. Between them, they should have much to tell - assuming he's willing to listen - the security minister, Robert Montague. We wonder what would have been the outcome if similar ideas had been rigorously pursued in Tivoli Gardens after the 2010 operation.