Mon | Aug 20, 2018

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Sell law enforcement to the public

Published:Thursday | February 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Police on foot patrol in Bedward Gardens, St Andrew in 2011.

Sustainable responses to criminality, underpinned by credible deterrent strategies, can only be achieved if we fully understand the dynamics of the problem. The repeated application of band-aid fixes to this festering problem is symptomatic of our failure to understand the core issues, as well as our lack of appreciation for the 'what next'.

Political and economic factors aside, an understanding of the social determinants of behaviour, namely criminal behaviour, is at the core of crafting sustainable crime-management policies and strategies.


Social factors


Social forces within society shape our attitudes, opinions, interests and lifestyles and who we are as a people. Businesses usually scrutinise the social environment of the market, and gauge determinants like cultural trends, demographics and population analytics in relation to consumer behaviour. Analysis provides an understanding of market trends and customer attitudes and needs. Products are then developed and marketed with due consideration to these social forces. Conversely, ignoring them and not reacting to changes in society can be a costly mistake.


The Jamaican reality


I hear you asking 'What does this have to do with managing crime?' Human behaviour is invariably the response of individuals or groups to social influences. In Jamaica, there is no such thing as 'normal' standardised behaviour: circumstances within communities shape the residents' attitudes and behaviours; these vary from community to community.

Sadly, this variance has fuelled certain prejudices, akin to President Trump's repugnant global perspective. This is our reality, and it painfully manifests itself in the way we generally view and treat residents of these communities. The police are particularly guilty of this, as policing actions in such communities are entirely different to operations in upscale communities.

And we wonder why each time we remove the head of the beast two more pop up? The tail is fertile with young disenfranchised males ready to fill the void. We need to approach things from a different and more anticipatory perspective.


Novel approaches


Criminals are not static in their thinking and actions. Every successful intervention by the police gives rise to shifts in operating spheres and focus on the part of criminals: they relocate, recruit, form new alliances, identify new opportunities and eliminate obstacles. But some things remain constant, namely their need for support from the citizens, whether by force and coercion, through kinship or via bribery. To this end, they do their homework and market themselves accordingly. We need to do the same, only better.

Law enforcement should be treated as a product that is being sold to the public. Managing crime is a surety if we get buy-in from the citizens; consumers whose interests are best sparked by new and useful products. The old, broken down approach to law enforcement and policing needs to be rebranded and marketed, using social forces as product enhancers.

People must have faith in the brand, starting with the manufacturing company. It goes without saying that the toxicity within the police force needs to be addressed, otherwise the product will remain unpalatable.

Concurrently, there must be an outstripping of the competition, the gangs and criminal leaders who currently have a firm handle on the market and the consumers. The factories that produce criminals must be put out of business by offering the consumers a better product, a more meaningful lifestyle characterised by the might of right and opportunities for self-actualisation.

But first, we must understand the demographics of our competition, the criminals. What are their strategies for engendering community support, even when they brutalise members of the same community? What are their strategies for recruiting? Who are the people most vulnerable to recruitment? How can we drive a wedge between them and the communities and become the recruiter of choice for young at-risk males in particular? These are the questions we need to focus on and devise counter-strategies to turn the tide against the criminals.


Shaping the marketplace


Winning in the marketplace means converting customers to our law enforcement product and keeping them hooked. We must have a clear value proposition; what makes our product a must-have? And how do we accomplish this? By changing the mindset about law enforcement.

Successful changes of attitudes and behaviour are predicated on having a sense of purpose, that things will be better. Environments where positive influences dominate are more likely to motivate people, even those lacking basic education and skills, and propagate a culture of positive values and attitudes. If we control the tail of the beast, and then remove the head, it stays permanently beheaded.

Such changes will take years to achieve and will span different political administrations. Are our politicians prepared to start programmes that may come to fruition under other administrations?

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