Editorial | Use technology to fight crime
In much of the world, the level of violence has been falling for decades. UK data show violent crime at the lowest level since 1981, while in the USA, it has fallen by nearly 75 per cent since 1994. Some areas have done even better. The murder rate in New York has fallen by 85 per cent since 1990 and by 90 per cent in Los Angeles since 1992.
These dramatic reductions in violence were not the result of great leadership or brilliant strategy, although both of these are important. They were the result of a large number of improvements and reforms, all of which have helped to make crime more difficult and less rewarding.
For example, cities have improved street lighting; there are now better security systems for buildings and vehicles; more CCTV cameras cash is being replaced by electronic transactions; and most consumer goods have become cheaper, which makes it less profitable to steal them.
There have also been important improvements in police strategies, tactics, and technologies. During the 1990s, most police forces started to make much more effective use of information and communications technologies. At the same time, serious and organised crime became the top priority in many countries, so police forces developed the capabilities needed to penetrate, compromise, and degrade large, sophisticated international criminal organisations. This led to the development of intelligence-led policing', a model that was not widely known in Jamaica until 2011, when the JCF developed its own intelligence-led policing strategy.
Intelligence-led policing means that the police systematically collect and analyse data on all forms of crime. They then use this information to develop better strategies, to anticipate where and when crimes are most likely to occur, and to focus their resources accordingly. Over time, the police develop a better understanding of how to control crime, and their predictions become increasingly accurate.
Police officers no longer sit in a station waiting for calls, and they no longer have to spend most of their time reacting to events. Instead, they are already in the area where the crime is likely to occur, at the time when it is most likely to happen. In some cases, the police will also go and speak to the likely perpetrators and warn them to change their ways.
This is a genuine revolution in policing. With this approach, the police can actually prevent crimes and save lives.
Better use of information and communication technologies has also allowed police forces to recruit the public into the process of law enforcement. In New York, for example, information about kidnappings is immediately pushed to every mobile phone in the area, with descriptions of suspects and licence plate numbers of vehicles, which makes it almost difficult for the fugitives to hide. In most cases, they are arrested in a few hours.
Why has the JCF been so slow to see the potential of information and communication technologies? Many crimes in Jamaica are still recorded in old leather-bound station diaries, which are then kept in damp storerooms, which means that vital information can be destroyed by mould and rats. This cannot support the modern policing that Jamaica needs today.
There have been a number of attempts to get the JCF to modernise its thinking and its management of information. What has always been lacking in the past, however, is the forceful leadership needed to overcome the entrenched culture in the JCF that has resisted these reforms. With the right leadership, the JCF could rapidly implement the necessary changes and could then give Jamaica the competent, efficient police service that it so badly needs.