Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Ewin James | Changing commissioner not the solution to crime

Published:Tuesday | December 27, 2016 | 12:00 AMEwin James

Soon Jamaica will have a new commissioner of police who could be a woman for a woman is the interim police chief. Speculation aside, I'm almost certain that whoever he/she be, things will remain as they have been under the outgoing commissioner, Dr Carl Williams, and his predecessors.

When Dr Carl Williams was chosen, hope rose for the abatement of the horrendous crime and violence which have been part of Jamaican life for he had much experience and advanced training in criminal justice.

Alas! It was not to be. Jamaica remains an implacably violent country.

Some 1,004 persons were murdered in 2014, 1,200 in 2013, and 1,097 in 2012. With 1,192 murders recorded for 2015, 2016 may surpass it. These numbers are exorbitant in a country of only 2.8 million people. Florida, the state in which I live, has a population of 19.8 million. It had 1,040 murders in 2015.

Jamaica is an abnormally violent country.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OCSA) of the US Department of State says on its website in a report in 2015 on crime in Jamaica: "Jamaica suffers from violent crimes, and these occurrences can impact international visitors. Most criminal activity is 'Jamaican-on-Jamaican' violence, often involving organised criminal elements and gangs. In 2014, there were five US citizens murdered, 36 reports of robbery, three reports of rape and/or sexual assault."




The raison d'etre of crime and violence in Jamaica is said to be poverty, implying that all other countries with similar poverty should be as violent and crime-ridden, and once poverty begins to decrease in Jamaica, similarly, crime and violence will decline. None of that holds true. For Jamaica has seen a decrease in poverty in recent times, but it remains violent, and there are countries in the world that are poorer than Jamaica which see nothing of the madness that prevails there.

Let's pick a country at random that is poorer than Jamaica and should have more horrendous crime. One such is Togo in West Africa, with a population of 6.8 million. It is far poorer than Jamaica. Its GDP per capita is $634.44. Jamaica's GDP per capita is US$5,289. The BORGEN project that works to reduce poverty in the world says of Togo: "Togo is one of the poorest countries in the world. Quality of life there is low, with a life expectancy of only 56 years. Almost 50 per cent of the population is under 18 years of age."

Given this poverty, Togo should be one of the most violent places in the world. It's not. It's far more peaceful than Jamaica. Of course, there are pickpocketing, burglaries and robberies there, which occur everywhere else. And of course, murders, but not like Jamaica. The murder rate per 100,000 persons for Jamaica is 40. For Togo, it is 9 per 100,000.




So getting a new commissioner won't help, or even decreasing poverty, for both have been done before to no avail. There must be radical solutions for radical problems. So far, we have only been applying superficial solutions.

The place to begin is resuming hanging, for I believe that the reasons so many people murder so readily is that they know they won't lose their lives as a result. Next, the Government, as far as it is able, should make sure that executions follow as soon as possible after conviction. Delaying executions for up to 15 years, as done in the past, will allay the fear of death and increase opportunities for convicts to escape.

Also, a refusal to execute will force some relatives of victims and other sufferers of crime to exact their own justice. It happens every day.

Also, the authorities should begin punishing petty crimes and offences more ruthlessly than they do, to dissuade people from graduating to more violent ones. This is what Singapore does. For example, it canes for minor offences such as misbehaviour in schools. The moralisers will howl that it is backwards and primitive, but Singapore is one the most economically advanced countries with a very low crime rate.

Until we begin to do something different, we will only be changing commissioners to no avail.

- Ewin James is a freelance journalist living in Longwood, Florida.