Editorial | In the face of crisis
Conventional wisdom will be to ascribe the situation in Montego Bay to the balloon effect: squeeze one side and it bulges at the other. So, the concentration, since last month, of police and soldiers in the community of Mount Salem under the zones of special operations (ZOSO) initiative may have caused an upsurge in criminality elsewhere.
There may be an element of truth in that analysis. Indeed, for a community with a population of fewer than 4,000 people, seven murders during the first eight months of year, and 20 over a three-year period, represents a horrendously high homicide rate - close to 200 per 100,000. However, a shift of crime from Mount Salem to elsewhere is unlikely to be the full, or even major part, of the explanation for the more than dozen murders in Montego Bay over the past week.
Or, put another way, in the more than six weeks since the ZOSO was established at Mount Salem, crime hasn't abated in Montego Bay, its capital, or elsewhere in the parish of St James, which is Jamaica's most murderous region, where, with more than two months to go in 2017, homicides are already four per cent higher than last year. On this trajectory, there are likely to be close to 320 murders in the parish this year, an increase of more than a quarter and in line with the national trend.
"We are in a crisis," Nathan Robb, a Montego Bay lawyer and a former chairman of the city's chamber of commerce and industry, told this newspaper. "The security forces and the minister of national security seem clueless to any method or process that would support the ordinary citizen in securing safe passage as we go about our business."
There is a sense of panic in Mr Robb's declaration. That sentiment is not unique to him, or limited to Montego Bay, or St James. It is common across Jamaica as criminals act without fear and with seeming impunity.
Three months ago, Richard Ramdial, a young businessman, was driving in afternoon peak-hour traffic along Kingston's Ruthven Road when he was shot dead by gunmen. On Monday, Mr Ramdial's father, Dennis Ramdial, was standing outside his business place on Beechwood Avenue when he, too, was shot dead. The same day, a security guard was shot dead on a school campus in the parish of Clarendon, another hotbed of violent crime.
CRIME COSTS JAMAICA
A report on the cost of crime in Latin America and the Caribbean released earlier this year by the Inter-American Development (IDB) reported that 50 per cent of people knew someone close to them who had been murdered. Moreover, various studies suggest that crime costs Jamaica between five and seven per cent annually in lost output of goods and services. The Government's task force on economic growth, which has ambitions to drive expansion of GDP to at least five per cent a year by 2020, has said that crime is potentially the greatest inhibitor to reaching this goal.
Yet, we do not sense that fighting crime is at the core of the Government's strategic vision. It is not that we believe that Prime Minister Holness and his ministers do not think it is a major problem and are not focused on it. They are. In a way. The ZOSO initiative, for instance, is to couple security operations with social intervention.
What we do not feel is the centrality of crime fighting to the operation of Government; that the administration, like Mr Robb, understands, this state of crisis. In our view, effectively tackling the problem demands that the leader appreciate this, be invested with its solution, and infect his ministers with this deep mission. From this will grow the necessary national, solution-oriented, intense focus on crime; the prioritising of investment in anti-crime measures, and an aggressive overhaul of an ineffective constabulary.