Thu | Sep 19, 2019

Andre Wright | Where’s the strategy in SOEs?

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:26 AM

There is a growing and dangerous cult of disciples who believe that states of emergency (SOEs) are to be normalised and formalised as a long-term security strategy. Those voices have found support among a mass of Jamaicans who view the surrender of rights as convenient barter for safety. It most certainly is not.

That the commissioner of police and chief of defence staff have recommended the security clampdown is not, in and of itself, sufficiently credible enough grounds for acceptance of what has become a reflexive crutch for the security forces.

SOEs should be used sparingly and represent a nuclear option for the security forces in response to a specific event or series of events that threaten the viability of the State.

That narrative is consistent with the views of Hardley Lewin, retired police chief and chief of defence staff predecessor to Antony Anderson, the current commissioner of police. Lewin warned in 2018 against turning the ultimate weapon in the security toolkit into a farce. I’m fearful that his caution has not been heeded.

All-powerful State

The invocation of SOEs, giving the all-powerful State greater latitude, ought to evoke such trepidation that ‘robot’ taxis, those caravans of death, should be crawling at snail’s pace. Fruit vendor suppose fi fraid fi carry him ratchet a road fi peel orange. But instead, SOEs no longer carry the awe they should. It’s a picnic! Child’s play!

There are positives, though. Up to August 3, the three-month-old SOE has led to declines in murder in Hanover (down 50 per cent) and Westmoreland (down 37 per cent), but St James is still running 41 per cent ahead, with 79 homicides, of last year’s corresponding body count.

But as the prime minister tries to plug holes in the ship of state with SOEs, crime spurts are opening up all across the deck. Kingston Central murders are up 175 per cent, Kingston Eastern 28 per cent, St Catherine South 44 per cent, St Ann 17 per cent, Manchester 118 per cent, and St Elizabeth 80 per cent. Shootings have climbed by 30-160 per cent in eight of 19 police divisions.

The PM has telegraphed his intent to use SOEs over a five- to seven-year period, indicating a premeditation towards the abrogation of constitutional rights, backed by an attorney general whose rhetoric and tone have often framed the sacrosanct rights of citizens as dismissible. His posture also signals a contrived interpretation of the only viably applicable of three constitutional benchmarks – “that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of supplies or services essential to life” – to cover for the failure of the State. But SOEs are not fit for purpose as a crime-control mechanism.

What has sparked bewilderment is the absolute lack of strategic intelligence on the ground. For example, a checkpoint has been established on Perkins Boulevard between the access intersections, at Catherine Drive and Red Hills Road, leading up to Queen Hill and Red Hills, respectively. Anyone descending the hill with a carload of guns and ammunition can simply opt for either route to avoid the fresh-faced security personnel waving through vehicle after vehicle like orchestra conductors. Further, any dimwit with contraband travelling north along Perkins Boulevard turns left at Queen Hill, fewer than 50 metres from the checkpoint straight ahead, to reconnect to Red Hills Road. It nuh mek nuh sense!

Sleepy checkpoint

I’ve seen ‘robot’ cabbies turn off Waltham Park Road on to Newark Avenue, fly at 60mph in an imaginary second lane, and turn left at the Keesing Avenue Y-intersection where a sleepy checkpoint is sited, circumventing soldiers and police to access Hagley Park Road. It nuh mek nuh sense!

And finally the security forces have realised that the checkpoint at the intersection of Aloe Avenue and Bay Farm Road was a grand and expensive waste of time, with a maze of alternative roads – Pandora, Verbena, Cosmos, Marigold, Dahlia. After weeks of holding crusade – that must be what the tent was for – they’ve packed up and left. It nuh mek nuh sense!

I would have expected a more cerebral and surgical attack on crime dens and thugs, with more sting operations and raids geared towards high-volume gun seizures and arrests. We cannot effectively curb crime if we don’t get the guns.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang’s intelligence that 200 guns are flowing into the country every month is chilling. If 2,400 guns are smuggled into Jamaica annually, the police are seizing less than one-third that number every year. And that doesn’t account for the thousands of illegal guns that are already on the streets.

Calendar benchmark

Even with states of emergency active in four parishes, as well as two zones of special operations, gun seizures in 2019 have fallen 5.8 per cent, from 445 to 419, year-on-year up to August 3. And that was compounded by a fall in gun finds by 11.7 per cent, from 504, using the same calendar benchmark in 2017.

This is not an attempt to pooh-pooh the work of the police. After all, ammunition seizures have climbed 37.8 per cent in 2019. Great job! But the compelling evidence is that aside from the socio-economic reforms desperately needed, as well as the overhaul of the constabulary, Jamaica will not drain the swamp of blood until the security forces plug the porous borders and seize thousands more guns annually.

Upend every chicken coop. Check the floorboards and ceilings. Guns are buried in backyards and stashed in much-trafficked gullies.

Empower the force to target not only the foot soldiers that traffic in blood, but the high-profile merchants of death smuggling in guns and ammo. The ‘sketelisation’ of the potent weapon of SOEs risks blunting the psychological edge for both civilians and the security forces in the event of apocalyptic attacks on the State in the future.

- Andre Wright is The Gleaner’s opinion editor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com