Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | Where's the political spine against crime?

Published:Monday | January 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Despite the Jamaican authorities' attempt to pass off America's latest travel advisory for the island as merely an old, though reformatted statement, the United States government's warning to their citizens is consequential.

First, it is a direct declaration that Jamaica isn't safe. The deeper implication of this is that the Government has lost a grip on crime and that the country is lurching deeper into anarchy. Or, put differently, no leader has been able to muster the spine or courage to take the political risks inherent in doing the things required to fix the problem, including reforming key institutions and challenging vested interests.

Last week's advisory places Jamaica at Level 2 of a four-step security scale, which, our foreign ministry asserts, means that Jamaica's status has not changed and places the country the same category "as that of the UK, France and Germany", countries against which, the Americans warn, terrorists regularly plot. Terrorist attacks may include the kinds of places frequented by tourists. So, American visitors to these European countries are advised be aware of their surroundings when travelling to tourist locations and large crowded public venues and to monitor events.

The concern with Jamaica is its home-grown criminal violence, which last year resulted in 1,616 homicides, for a murder rate of 60 per 100,000 and a current trajectory that, if maintained, will mean well over 1,800 killings in 2018 and a murder rate of around 68.

The upshot is that the Americans have told their citizens that violent crime is common and that, though the claim has been disputed by the authorities, "sexual assaults occur frequently, even in all inclusive resorts". Tourists, therefore, were told to avoid a whole slew of environments, including secluded places in their in resorts.

Further, even US Embassy staff are barred from travelling to several communities in Kingston, the tourism hub of Montego Bay - and Spanish Town, altogether - where shootings often happen.

Ironically, too, embassy officials were warned off the community of Standpipe, which, unless there is another interpretation, is literally on the other side of the narrow road that runs along the front entrance of the embassy compound. It would seem, too, that they would be barred from going to several important institutions, including the Supreme and Appeal courts and the central bank in downtown Kingston, as well as, when it is completed, the new foreign ministry headquarters.

 

LACK OF RESOURCES

 

Part of Jamaica's problem, as the Americans point out, is that "local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents". In a country with serious fiscal problems, the allocation of resources can't match the demands. By most estimates, however, crime costs the country up to seven per cent of the value of the annual output, so taming the scourge will bring quick returns.

But the resource constraint of the police is in respect of its poor quality of its leadership, its old modes of operation, and the perception that it is deeply corrupt. Everyone agrees that the police force is notoriously resistant to change, is in need of drastic overhaul. if not a total reconstitution, including with greater civilian oversight.

Political leadership, however, has been afraid to tread too heavily on this front. For, the constabulary represents a strong political bloc that has been known to undermine governments. Changing this attitude shall require spine and will.

More critically, collaring crime has to become a mission of Government, internalised and driven by the leader, in this case, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has to mobilise the society behind this campaign, including forging a consensus with the Opposition. A new demand is being made on Mr Holness' leadership.