George Davis | Outer-space cure for crime
On September 17, 2015, then Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams launched the Get the Guns campaign at his Old Hope Road office in St Andrew. He said the campaign was long overdue given that guns had featured in 10,000 of the 13,000 murders committed in Jamaica between January 1995 and September 2015. Over that period, another 9,000 Jamaicans were shot and injured by criminals using illegal guns.
Before the launch of the targeted campaign, the police reported that their seizures of illegal guns realised an average of 600 firearms each year. The first statistical report on the progress of the Get the Guns campaign was published in March last year. It showed that 1,017 illegal guns were seized along with 13,000 rounds of ammunition.
In the killing fields of St James, 167 guns were seized, a number equal to the find in the parishes of Hanover, Trelawny, Westmoreland, Portland and St Elizabeth combined! That campaign continues today alongside heightened police-military activities in the Denham Town zone of special operations and the state of emergency in St James. Yet, the galloping murder rate suggests there are probably more illegal guns in the hands of Jamaicans than at any time in the country's independent history.
Much has been made about the porous nature of the country's borders and the attendant ease with which those with criminal intent are able to ship boatloads of rifles and handguns into the island, without fear of tangling with our maritime security agents.
As usual in Jamaica, everyone knows the problems. Everyone knows the primary country of origin of these guns (the USA) and everyone knows the route the weapons take from up north down to anywhere along our 630 miles of coastline. So what can we do?
Jamaica can make a long-term decision to better secure its borders by investing in CubeSat technology to monitor its maritime boundaries. CubeSats are cube-shaped nanosatellites measuring four inches in length, weighing about three pounds and having a volume of about one quart.
The CubeSat technology is accessible under a joint programme funded by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Engineers working at the University of Nairobi recently celebrated a milestone in Kenya's history when they successfully developed the country's first nanosatellite, under the referenced UN-Japan programme.
Making use of the US$1 million provided by the Japanese under the programme, the Kenyan engineers built a CubeSat that will be launched from the International Space Station in March or April this year. The CubeSat will be used to map farming trends on the Kenyan mainland, as well as monitor the country's air and maritime borders.
For the record, Kenya is among several countries on the African content with satellites in space. The country joins South Africa, Morocco, Angola, Egypt, Algeria and Ghana that are using the surveillance tools to help with several problems, including the problematic issue of smuggling across land and sea borders.
The UN-Japan Space collaboration is open to applicants exclusively from developing or emerging UN member states. The same avenue accessed by Kenya is available to Jamaican heads of research institutes, universities and other public organisations. The application form notes that private companies are ineligible to apply. This presents a wonderful opportunity for the UWI, with its research footprint and pedigree, along with UTech and its expertise and know-how, to challenge its best minds to design and develop Jamaica's first CubeSat.
Under the UN-Japan programme, Jamaica's application would have to show evidence of our capacity to design, manufacture, test and verify our CubeSat, along with convincing the partners of our ability to operate and utilise it after deployment. We would also have to convince the selection panel of the scientific and technical value of the CubeSat.
Many people smirked when Kenya's engineers set down to work on building and then launching the country's first, tiny satellite into space to help with agriculture and national security. Today, those engineers are heroes.
We are not short of bright minds and a similar mission must be embarked upon with the aim of making Jamaica better in the future. It may be long term, but satellite technology and surveillance may very well be where Jamaica's national security is at.