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Frank Phipps | New paradigm to fix crime

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Frank Phipps
Woman Sergeant Suzette Watt (left), Woman Constable Latoyta Graham, (centre) and Constable Zanu Thompson speaks to students of Sligoville Primary School on Friday, May 27, 2016.

Dear Minister Bobby Montague:

I respectfully send a proposal for crime control with civilian community protection to replace the inherited, ineffective and untrustworthy paramilitary police approach.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is a caution to the new Government that has the urgent and unenviable task to control crime, the most devastating social problem in Jamaica today.

During slavery, unspeakable punishment was inflicted by the masters to control crime (whatever was called a crime at that time), enforced at times with assistance from other slaves. We have heard of the Thistlewood dose where the victim was held down by other slaves to undergo the heinous and despicable punishment inflicted by the master.

After the system of governance was changed from slavery to Crown colony, the punishment at Morant Bay in 1865 shows atrocities were cloaked as crime-control measures. Today, the conduct of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force to control crime justifies the saying, 'The more things change, the more they remain the same.'







In modern times, a community suffers twice as victims of crime; the second time is from the brutality of the police. Until there is a major change in the system for crime control, Jamaica will continue on the path to national insanity, if we have not already reached there by doing the same thing over and over again.

What if Jamaicans were to understand that ultimate power rests with them and their personal safety and security are primarily their responsibility? Wouldn't they change the system that yields insecurity and anxiety from mounting murder and criminal violence?

And what if our leaders receive the divine intervention to deal with crime that the previous government asked for, but did not stay for an answer to come, to the realisation that the people are God's workers in the venture? Would the leaders encourage and adopt a policy for the people to assume the first and foremost responsibility for dealing with crime in their community?

An affirmative answer to both questions would demand a different form of community protection against crime, replacing community policing imposed from the top down that carries the unwelcome and harsh treatment of the people.

Crime is a community problem, and action for dealing with crime must not be taken from the people in the community at any stage, be it to prevent, investigate and arrest, punish or repair. It goes without saying that the people of the community cannot do it alone. Left to their own devices, they might ignore the rule of law and the rights of others.

The new approach for community protection should start with the neighbourhood watch programme. These should be strengthened and their numbers increased islandwide with the services of a district constable available to each watch. The DC belongs to the community and is the first limb of the law in contact with the people. He/she will have direct communication with the police station for the area, available to serve and reassure.

The new arrangement should be supervised by a justice of the peace who is answerable to the custos of the parish for performance. The custos has the official responsibility to preserve law and order in the parish. As the local ombudsman or public defender, he will see to it that the justices step down from the Bench, or move from behind the desk signing documents to delivering justice on the streets and in the villages where there is immediate need for their service.

Often we are told there can be no peace without justice. This new arrangement for community crime prevention will go a far way to achieve peace and justice without blocking roads.

At a different level in the parish, the custos will liaise with the police hierarchy to ensure their readiness to support the people in their efforts for crime control, instead of having the members let loose in the society to administer justice in their own way.







Community protection is not to be imposed from outside. In this broad outline of a new plan to deal with crime by doing something different, there is nothing to lose but the successive failures of the past.

The occurrence at Tivoli Gardens in May 2010 is the classic example of 'How Not to Deal with Crime'. The people of Tivoli suffered social rejection from birth in 1963, repeated and intensified in 1997, 2002, 2005, 2007, and again in 2010 with great loss of life and damage to property along the way.

Coming from the grass yard at Back-o-Wall, the womb for crime, described as probably the worst slum in the Caribbean, the people of Tivoli have much to defend. They cannot easily give up the way of life that brought them this far out of poverty and sustained them on the journey. Without condoning the method used in defence, and although the pre-independence social order had rejected them and was largely the cause for their poverty, they should be encouraged to see themselves as belonging to the new society.

No one in their right mind can accept the extreme measures used to maintain the mother of all garrisons, which is a threat to the integrity of one society. Excluding them spawns more crime.

Simon Crosskill, in his 'Live at Seven' show, recounted how, during his coverage of football, there were lots of billboards in Denham Town and Tivoli advertising various products but there is no major shop in the communities identified as the outlet for the items advertised. There is no Kentucky or Burger King or Hi-Lo or a pharmacy in Tivoli.

The people of Tivoli are ostracised, partly by their own conduct, and to live in Tivoli is a disqualification for employment outside of Tivoli. A word picture of Tivoli will give some idea of what the people defend.

The people in Tivoli live in a totally integrated community - a complex made up of four-storey apartment buildings, town houses and bungalows, with a community centre in the middle and green areas aesthetically placed about. Among the facilities there is a prenatal clinic, a maternity ward, day-care centres, basic schools and a secondary school, with a primary school across the road in Denham Town. The people of Tivoli are proud of the education system where several graduated, going on to the tertiary level for further accomplishment. The entertainment centre in Tivoli has an outstanding record of achievement in sport and culture: a football team in the Premier League, a first class, modern dance troupe, the country's leading marching band and several top-ranking pop music singers are from Tivoli.

Compared to what was at Back-o-Wall before, Tivoli has the bones, the potential, to be a model for community development.

Now, western Jamaica is the big problem for crime control and we are asked to sacrifice some of our rights so that the area can be flooded with more force - meeting fire with fire as the solution for scammers with the guns and money doing great harm in the area. In this scenario, gleaned from previous conduct with contending forces in warfare, there will be more loss of life and more damage to property while the people either abandon their homes or get caught in the crossfire. They will be the losers any way the conflict ends. There is no way that change will come from an invasion by armed security forces doing the same thing again and expecting a different result. Jamaicans are fed up with the same as usual and are ready for something different to deal with crime.

- Frank Phipps, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to