Tue | Feb 20, 2018

Mark Ricketts | Give cops tools to crush crime

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Americans have spoken about Jamaica's crime situation in no uncertain terms. Whether the country likes it or not, it had better get its house in order.

The Government's declaration of a state of public emergency in St James on Thursday, with soldiers, police, and helicopters in full view, might be a sign that the Holness administration finally accepts the seriousness of the situation.

Whether we want to parse the US position or add qualifiers to it, like what talking heads in the media have done, the Americans are quite clear in what they said: "The local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents."

Like many Jamaicans, the US government is concerned about Jamaica's home-grown criminal violence, where murders jumped 25 per cent last year, and this year, five Jamaicans have been killed each day in the first 13 days.

While men, women, and children are being murdered, if you read the newspapers recently and tuned into the airwaves, you'll have heard Jamaicans advocating various solutions to our crime problems, including the need for a national consensus among public- and private-sector stakeholders; a truth commission; a peace and love campaign; forging a consensus between the Jamaica Labour Party administration and the Opposition People's National Party; the need for drastic overhaul of the police force; greater civilian oversight of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (although there are already six); and disarming legal gun owners.

What takes the cake, however, as far as solutions go, is that the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica is hosting a summit on crime and is demanding that both parties attend and sign whatever documents emerge that reflect the agreed position.

In Jamaica, we like to circle the wagons with a lot of talk and highfalutin ideas, but the Americans are clear as to the major problem: lack of financing of the police force.

At a specific level, the US government's travel advisory warned that Jamaica was not safe and that tourists should avoid specific areas. Several neighbourhoods and communities were also ruled off limits to its embassy staff.

 

BUDGET ALLOCATION

 

If government leaders don't treat this as a crisis necessitating priority budget allocation and no-nonsense anti-crime measures, I do not know what will move them.

I have to assume that after decades of underinvestment, low pay, and poor working conditions for the police, the Government will finally do the right thing and modernise the force. If that happens, crime, particularly murders, will come down this year.

There are six other encouraging developments that give me hope.

First was the brilliant work done by the police in collaboration with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to bring to book many of the major players in one of Jamaica's most notorious gangs, which also included two policemen. The diligence, thoroughness, and patience over eight months was impressive.

Paula Llewellyn, director of public prosecutions, noted: "It was a very good example of excellent police work in collaboration with us at the ODDP throughout the investigative stage. As the police are the prosecutor's eyes and ears in respect of getting the evidence, I must say how proud I am of them and of my team.

"It is unfortunate that the society gets so caught up with the negativity of crime that there is not enough appreciation of the kind of work that goes into putting together thorough investigations up to charging of the accused."

Second, the police, together with a motivated and professional staff at the ODPP, are reaping dividends as the ratio of convictions to cases disposed of in the Home Circuit Court during the recently concluded Michaelmas term 2017 was 61 per cent. Convictions outstripping acquittals means that the police are doing their work.

Third, the introduction of Sentence-Reduction Days has been a sea change in the criminal-justice system, and it will help reduce the huge backlog of cases.

Fourth, the calibre of leadership in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the accumulated knowledge and experience as far as effective policing goes are assets we ignore at our peril.

Fifth, the Government should listen to the police, who provide evidence of the many repeat offenders out on bail who continue to wreak havoc in the society. Legislation should be passed immediately to reverse the country's rights-driven bail policy to one in which the accused has to prove that he or she is entitled to bail.

Sixth, while our judiciary must be independent, it was good of the police - as well as The Gleaner in making it headline news on Wednesday - to present evidence and call out judges in the western parishes whose sentencing for illegal possession of guns was tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck's quick response in announcing that new sentencing guidelines would be launched shortly was great. These kinds of proactive alerts and responses could tilt justice back in favour of the victims of crime.

 

ELEVATE, PAY THE POLICE

 

For 2018, the prime minister has to pay the police, hail them, and the country has to elevate them. After 9/11, look at America's marketing approach to their men and women in uniform. Jamaica's annual double-digit increases in murders over the last three years must be treated as its 9/11.

The Government introduced ZOSO with much fanfare, and while things haven't gone as planned, in that murders across the island have continued upwards, ZOSO has told the nation something: Put enough personnel from the national-security sector throughout Jamaica, as is done in ZOSO's two operational areas, and crime will be reduced.

Now, the Government has declared a state of emergency in one parish, and in the first day, the security forces took into custody five persons that they claim are linked to serious crimes. While the state of emergency underscores Government's intention to take the fight to the criminals in select parishes, it is a short-term measure. Ultimately, there must be an increase in the number of law enforcers to establish the required police-to-population ratio islandwide.

Additionally, the Government has to pass behaviour-modification legislation related to discipline and responsibility.

This year, the Budget's emphasis can't be redistributive. It must focus on four areas: massive expenditures on roads and bridges; the national-security sector, including police, soldiers, and the prisons; capital expenditures on capacity such as courthouses for the Ministry of Justice; and on agriculture.

Hopefully, this joint police and military operation by the Government is an initial step in the development of a comprehensive crime plan that will be adequately resourced.

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