Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Editorial | Crime and lessons from New York

Published:Thursday | December 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We understand anyone who's gravely pessimistic believing that Jamaica cannot extricate itself from its state of anarchy and arrest its crisis of crime. The data saps confidence.

Up to Boxing Day, according to police statistics, there were 1,581 murders in the island. So, with five more days to go in 2017, there were 17 per cent more homicides when compared to all of 2016.

More worryingly, murders are not only at their highest since the 1,680 homicides of 2009, but the upward spiral of the past three years suggests a return to the pre-2010 trend of an ever-escalating murder rate, until the Tivoli Gardens security operation slowed the bloodletting. Murders fell a combined 35 per cent over the next three years, but there was never a sense of permanence about the decline.

But then, there is New York City and the possibilities that it represents. At the same time that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was disclosing its latest crime data, the New York Police Department (NYPD) was doing the same. Up to Christmas Eve, the city of 8.53 million had recorded 278 murders including eight victims of a terrorist incident for a decline, compared with 2016, of nearly 15 per cent. The city's homicide rate is around three per 100,000 compared to Jamaica's 59.

 

NYC MURDERS AT THEIR LOWEST

 

As the city's police chief, James O'Neil, observed, murders and other index crimes - the ones that really get people worried - are now at their lowest "since the 1950s". This is a far cry from the New York City of a quarter century ago.

In Jamaica, New Yorkers might recognise elements of their city of 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Crime was rampant. The murder rate at the start of the 1990s was over 30 per 100,000. People feared using the subway for being mugged. The change over the past two decades, however, has been phenomenal.

Many causes have been attributed for the turnaround in New York City, the most often and glibly quoted being the so-called zero-tolerance approach to petty crimes, which invoked a sense of law and order in a disorderly city. Most analysts concede that such approaches helped, but serious academics insist that the larger and more compelling explanation rests with a broader and strategic approach to policing employed by the NYPD.

 

TARGETING HOTSPOTS

 

They targeted hotspots where murders, robberies and burglaries most often took place and went after the known and suspected criminals, who were sometimes picked up initially for small crimes. The police was substantially expanded, giving it the flexibility to do its tasks, without affecting its general policing functions.

Jamaica's police force will probably insist that its approach is consistent with the New York City model - and may well be. It is not our sense, however, that it is done with the same energy and consistency that delivered success in New York City. And important for Jamaica, neither is the JCF open to the level of transparency and accountability that elicits the kind of society trust that would contribute to its effectiveness.

But, transforming Jamaica's police force from an organisation with a reputation for corruption and ineptitude to an organisation that is professional, efficient, and accountable, demands new approaches to leadership. This must start with the top political leader, who apprehends that crime poses an existential threat to democracy, a civilised way of life, and the anarchy now imposed by criminals. That leader, therefore, must make its defeat of criminality immediate priority of Government around which the society it mobilised and on which the energy of the administration and resources of the State are focused. That requires taking risks.