Editorial | What’s General Anderson’s plan?
Until he became Prime Minister Andrew Holness' national security adviser and did the media rounds promoting the law allowing for the declaration of state of emergency-like zones of special operations (ZOSOs), Major General Antony Anderson wasn't a man given to too many public pronouncements.
He was that way as chief of defence staff and head of the army, coming out only after the publication of the Simmons report into the west Kingston security operations to defend the Jamaica Defence Force's strategies and conduct during that affair. But this is not a time for extended silence by General Anderson.
Indeed, it has been almost a month since he took over as Jamaica's commissioner of police from the light-footed and unremarkable tenure of the career police officer, George Quallo. Yet, the public doesn't know what General Anderson's priorities on the job are and, assuming that he has some, what his strategies are for getting them done. Nor are people aware what specific contributions General Anderson wants from them towards his success.
Such a discussion would be timely in the face of this week's extension by Parliament, for another two months, of the ZOSOs in Denham Town, west Kingston, and Mount Salem, St James, which are separate from the ongoing states of emergency for the entire parish of St James and for Spanish Town in St Catherine. For, as Prime Minister Holness conceded, these interventions that give the security forces wider powers of search and arrest, which encroach on civil liberties, are not long-term strategies for dealing with Jamaica's problem of crime. They should, at best, be short-term actions to cauterise a crisis.
It is almost trite, given Jamaica's history of crime and the state of the constabulary, to say that General Anderson's assumption of the police chief's job came at a critical time. Yet, the period is significant. In 2017, there were 1,616 homicides in Jamaica, a 20 per cent rise on the previous year, following a similar increase in 2016. The number of murders in 2017 was the most in nine years and marked a complete wipeout of the 30 per cent decline achieved over a six-year period after the 2010 security operation in west Kingston.
The states of emergency and the ZOSOs may indeed have cauterised the crises in the areas where they are in force, as well as decelerated the rate of murders islandwide. So, murders at this point are about five per cent more than the corresponding period in 2017. At the same time, the ZOSOs may be having a ballooning effect in adjacent communities, where crimes, including murders, are up sharply.
The bottom line is that these types of operations, with their sustained use of manpower, are not sustainable in the long term. Further, over time, they tend to lose the impact of shock that enhances their early effectiveness.
It is in this context that we look forward to hearing General Anderson's prescription for containing crime, utilising strategies in a liberal democracy where a constabulary is expected to police with the implicit consent of, and in partnership with, citizens. This kind of policing assumes that there is a constabulary capable of doing the job. That may be questionable in Jamaica, given the constabulary's reputation for corruption and a style not usually associated with best practices.
But General Anderson should have come to the job not only understanding the problems, but with clear ideas for their solutions. His military background apart, he spent a year as the national security adviser, where he must have ruminated on these issues. And for months before Mr Quallo's departure, he was obviously earmarked as the successor.