Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Editorial | What is JamaicaEye seeing?

Published:Friday | June 14, 2019 | 12:20 AM

This is too often the case in Jamaica. The Government announces bold initiatives or puts in infrastructure, which soon crumble, if they are not stillborn. Usually, it is the result of the deficit in implementation and/or absence of maintenance.

We tend to be weak on the details. This newspaper wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case with the cameras at the May Pen Square.

The parish of Clarendon, of which May Pen is the capital, is facing a major problem of crime, including violent ones. The parish recorded 133 homicides in 2018. Whereas there was a 15 per cent decline in murders for the first five months of 2019, against the comparative period last year, there were still 54 murders. That figure translates to a murder rate of around 22 per 100,000, or around the national average, but it’s their brazenness, approach and the types of crimes they commit that cause the criminals who operate in Clarendon to stand out.

There was, for instance, the case in the town square last month when a group of heavily armed men, operating with seeming professional precision, held up a supermarket, taking one of the business operators hostage during the getaway, when they were seemingly cornered by the police.

To help in circumstances such as these, to identify an emerging problem, criminal or otherwise, and to track its development, the Government, a year ago, formally launched its JamaicaEye project. This initiative, which falls under the Ministry of National Security, involves the setting up of CCTV cameras in public spaces, linked into a central network overseen by the army. The cameras are to be monitored continuously by persons coordinated by the police.

Private households, businesses and communities/neighbourhood watches with CCTV cameras have been invited to join the JamaicaEye network. The Government has indicated that it already has more than 500 cameras in place, with plans to quickly move that to around 1,000, and expects, in time, to reach 5,000. A potential privacy issue apart, the scheme, on the face of it, is a good thing.

LAUGHABLE FARCE

Seventeen of the Government’s cameras are in the busy May Pen Square, but four, or nearly a quarter of them, according to Winston Maragh, the town’s mayor and head of the parish’s local government, are not working.

“I would like the Ministry of National Security to send in technical teams … and have those cameras repaired,” Mr Maragh told this newspaper as he addressed the problem of crime in his parish.

It appears that the dysfunction of the May Pen CCTV cameras may not be a recent development. Winsome Witter, president of the Clarendon Chamber of Commerce, said she first knew of a problem during a tour of the town during last year’s celebration of Police Week. That was last November, more than six months ago.

The authorities ought to have been aware of the issue at least from that time. Assuming that they knew, and the fault was fixed, that it should arise again so soon would, of itself, be a problem. Or, if it is the same problem that has persisted for so long, it suggests an inexcusable incompetence and makes into laughable farce the prate by officialdom about fixing crime.

May Pen clearly begs the questions of how many of these cameras work, whether they are really being monitored, and if they are delivering value to taxpayers, which we hope is the case.

It would make sense if the authorities provided periodic accounting to the public on the efficacy of JamaicaEye. There should also be an oversight role for Parliament of the initiative, not only to determine its efficiency, but to ensure there is no overreach by the Government, using spyware, to pry into people’s privacy.