Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Mark Ricketts | Shoot up budget to shoot down crime

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM

As I listened to the prime minister in his press conference on September 1 telegraphing to everyone, including criminals, where the first zone of special operations was, I recalled my outrage in speeches and columns when the Government, in April, had not increased budgetary allocations to the national security sector.

I am convinced that the pain and horror of more than 1,000 murders so far this year has not really seized the society, except for those directly affected by it. The terrifying part is that many people are being shot, even in broad daylight, and the gunmen, seemingly unnerved, just walk away or dart into a waiting car - another day on the job.

August figures show that its 168 murders were the highest since the state of emergency in May 2010 amid the hunt for Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. While people are aghast at the level of crime and violence, they seem uncertain as to whether more money should be put into the national security sector, or in social intervention, given the significant dysfunction.

Murders jumped by 11 per cent in 2016. When the Government tabled its Budget in April this year, one would have expected sizeable increases in allocations to law enforcement and the criminal justice administration. That did not happen.

 

Wrong focus

 

With no budget increase at a time when crime was clearly out of control, the headlines and top stories in the media should have zeroed in on Government's misplaced funding priorities.

Murders, so far this year, have jumped 24.1 per cent over the corresponding period last year and the Government is trying to play catch-up with new legislative initiatives, new policy proposals, such as cash for guns, and tough anti-crime speeches. However, in the absence of adequate funding, it is an uphill task.

In a town hall meeting in St Ann recently, National Security Minister Robert Montague said, "We're not going to allow these criminals to dictate how we live and how we go about our daily lives." Then on September 1, the PM declared the first zone of special operations in Mount Salem, St James. However, there has been confusion about the accuracy of the crime data justifying going into Mt Salem, where a purported 54 murders in the area is now down to seven.

As a society, we want the scourge of crime behind us, but seem ambivalent as to what must be sacrificed to give the highest priority to the national security sector.

Capturing the essence of this conundrum, Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions, said it best: "We are reaping the benefits of what we have sown because successive governments have treated the justice system like Cinderella, without any hope of ever finding a prince."

 

Decades of neglect

 

Offering an explanation for continued increases in the backlog of cases at the end of each term the DPP attributed this to, "decades of neglect of the judicial system by successive administrations and the worsening crime rate."

Making specific reference to the Home Circuit Court Llewellyn points out that "over the last 30 years, we've had a tripling of the crime rate and the intake of cases into the system, made even worse by the Committal Proceedings Act, which was introduced last year to help speed up the disposal of cases by abolishing preliminary enquiries, yet we still have the same four courtrooms."

That's a pity. With any sustainable crime-reduction strategy, there must be effective policing, and that is dependent on an efficient criminal-justice system that guarantees timely trials, punishment for those deserving it, and the protection of the innocent.

A particular contradiction in fighting crime is that everyone has a plethora of solutions for combating crime but somehow they detach themselves from identifying funding sources, such as budget increases for the security sector.

A letter writer, Paul McFarlane, in response to an earlier column of mine on crime, pointed out that crime was a condition or a set of conditions that must have causative factors, and that Jamaica must address them.

Citing a review of the empirical evidence in the professional literature, McFarlane offered the following:

- Over the last 50 years, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers.

- High-crime neighbourhoods are characterised by the marginal role played by many fathers in the home.

- Aggression and hostility demonstrated by a future criminal is often foreshadowed in unusual aggressiveness as early as age five or six.

There is obviously merit in all these ideas and in an acknowledgement that there has to be an omnibus approach to serious crime reduction. However, this should not let us lose sight of the importance of new-generation technologies and tools

for the police, much better remuneration and conditions of the workplace for the national security sector, and a significant expansion of related resources for the justice system in order to cut the crime rate.

Tough talk and the introduction of special operations zones, which is a slightly more sophisticated version of amnesty, stop and searches, and curfews, are really penny-pinching ways for Government to avoid prioritising, with serious funding allocation, the national security sector.

If the August murder figures can't convince the Government and the nation that "time come!", as Portia Simpson Miller once said, I don't know what will!

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.