Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Editorial | For a clinical state of emergency

Published:Tuesday | March 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Given its launch on the eve of his formal assumption of the job of police commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson obviously not only endorses, but had a heavy hand in, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' promulgation of a state of public emergency in the St Catherine North Police Division.

In any event, even without his new role, General Anderson would have been involved. After all, for more than a year, he has been Prime Minister Holness' national security adviser, with the mandate of unravelling for the PM any knotty issues in this area and helping the Government chart a coherent national-security strategy. Indeed, he would have had a say in the declaration of the state of emergency that has been in force for several weeks in the parish of St James as well as the fashioning of law for the state of emergency-like zones of special operations and the roll-out of the strategy in two communities.

These initiatives, especially in St James, where homicides have been curtailed since the promulgation of the state of emergency, have had relative success. We, therefore, wish for similar, and hopefully lasting, gains as the police have already reported 48 murders this year, an increase of 60 per cent compared to the comparative period in 2017. For all of last year, there were 136 in that single police division, covering half of a parish where there were 242 murders in total.

It is early days yet in his tenure, so despite General Anderson's presumed involvement in mapping the strategy and tactics for this latest state of emergency as a response to Jamaica's chronic crime problem, we expect that he will, in time - of which he doesn't have the luxury of much - stamp his own personality on the project. That notwithstanding, we are surprised that he didn't insist on having the emergency powers across the entire parish, making it easier for the security forces to go after the criminals wherever they may be holed up.

There is also another matter, as was the case when the St James state of emergency was operationalised, that perplexes us about the roll-out of this one. Part of the effectiveness of a state of emergency is the suspension, for a period, of many of people's civil liberties. The security forces, thus, are not constrained, for a time, to adherence to guaranteed rights and freedoms. Another element of the potency of a state of emergency is the psychology that accompanies its declaration: a heightened expectancy; a sense that things will happen beyond the routine.

 

LESSON STILL NOT LEARNED

 

And they should, lest, as in a situation such as this when deployed as a crime-fighting tool, criminals lose the sense of awe for the special measures and the instrument becomes far less effective. In that event, the extended enforcement of a state of emergency is merely a diminution of democratic ideals and an admission of failure in the efficacious management of the state.

In the circumstance, and with the example and experience of the St James operation, we expected that this one would have been more clinically executed from the start. In other words, we do not expect that in Jamaica's situation, and with the purpose for which they are now deployed, the authorities would have declared a state of emergency without serious thought and, hopefully, much planning. In that regard, the security forces should be armed with sufficient intelligence that they would know precisely who they wanted to detain, where to find the bulk of them, and how to accomplish this within the first 12 hours of the operation.

In other words, we expect a spearfishing rather than net-fishing exercise. So, detaining 94 people, freeing 24 immediately, being uncertain about others and talk of intending to arrest the so-called "leading crime producers" is not how we envisioned such operations. There should be certitude. General Anderson ought to ensure this now.