Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial | Attack the emergency with emergency

Published:Thursday | September 29, 2016 | 9:00 AM

Like Peter Bunting, the shadow security minister, this newspaper is deeply concerned about the sharply upward spiral in homicides in Jamaica this year, especially in the parish of St James where the brazenness of the bloodletting exacerbates foreboding and fear among citizens.

For, at the current trajectory, murders in 2016 will surpass last year's increase of 20 per cent to nearly 1,500 cases, returning the national homicide rate to over 50 per 100,000, heading to where we were six years ago before the state of the emergency, the Tivoli Gardens operations and the three-year, cumulative one-third decline in homicides. Or, as Mr Bunting otherwise characterised the state of affairs, "this is an emergency situation".

Here, however, we urge caution on Mr Bunting as well as suggest to him that the monster that Jamaica now faces has to be confronted on several fronts simultaneously. Further, as tempting as it may be, this is not a circumstance in which to needle or gloat, although that is not a behaviour of which we accuse Mr Bunting.

Having held the national security portfolio for four years, Mr Bunting would appreciate the animation of a minister is no barometer of the success in that, or any other, ministerial portfolio. Indeed, the minister is not, by law, expected to be the front-line police officer. His job is to formulate broad policy, whose execution is the job of the various operational units, including the constabulary. The minister, of course, then holds his subordinates, the police chief included, accountable for performance.

It is our sense that this is the approach favoured by Mr Bunting and one which he sought to adopt during his tenure as the security minister. He often talked about Jamaica's crime problem in epidemiological terms, requiring several and varied interventions. He had, we believe, policies and strategies formulated for implementation, which, where still relevant and applicable, ought to be embraced by his successor Robert Montague.

 

HECTORING ADVISORIES

 

We would prefer Mr Montague spend time poring over the plans and policies left by Mr Bunting and working with his advisers to determine what should be followed through on, rather than giving hectoring advisories to policemen about the use of condoms or time spent in family court, as was his wont in the earlier months on the job.

We agree with Mr Bunting on the need for stakeholders meeting on crime, but not for the narrow purpose, as he suggests, of dealing with the current emergency. Those talks, instead, should focus substantially on building consensus on the broader issues of citizen security and public safety, as framed by Michael Lee-Chin's Economic Growth Committee, and how their proposed initiatives are to be funded.

But even as we pursue these matters, there remains that "huge challenge in St James" that has driven fear into people and threatens commerce in a major tourism corridor. A first step to reversing the crisis is cauterising it. We insist that a state of emergency, appropriately monitored by civil-society groups, will, as happened in 2010, provide the security forces with the psychological advantage that disorients the criminals.

Fear of a potentially negative effect of a limited state of emergency on the tourist industry is exaggerated. People abroad are aware of the existing crisis. As it is now, there is a danger of death by a thousand cuts.