Peter Espeut | Total tolerance for lawbreaking
There have been many calls for the Government to tell us what their anti-crime plan is so we can have confidence that our safety concerns are being addressed. The truth is that no Jamaican government has published a real plan over the last 20 years, and all ministers of national security – including the two Peters vying for the headship of the People’s National Party – have failed in that post.
Clearly, the plan for perceived hotspots is some sort of police and military action within a cordon – whether a state of emergency (SOE) or a zone of special operations (ZOSO) – involving, to a greater or lesser extent, the suspension of some of the constitutional rights of residents. Currently, there is no more extreme measure available within the Jamaican Constitution, and amounts to a last resort, by an administration that is at its wits’ end.
But we must never equate an anti-crime plan with the formation of special squads or the imposition of SOEs or ZOSOs. There is much more that a government can do without suspending any constitutional rights.
Two well-known anti-crime strategies are (1) taking a zero-tolerance approach, and (2) applying the ‘broken windows theory’. Both are based on the idea that visible crimes and antisocial behaviour create an environment that encourages further lawlessness and disorder, including serious crimes. Both strategies advocate prosecuting small offences, which creates an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, which in itself will tend to reduce both small and more serious crimes.
Recent events indicate clearly to me that neither zero tolerance nor the broken windows theory is being applied in Jamaica. Why do I say this? Because of the approach taken by the Jamaica Constabulary Force with respect to traffic violations.
According to reports, last weekend, a team led by head of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Bishop Dr Gary Welsh, OD, JP, apprehended 139 speeding motorists in a three-hour period on one highway, which represents more than 43 lawbreakers per hour, or about two every three minutes on just one road!
This is evidence of widespread traffic lawbreaking in Jamaica, which has one of the highest per-capita rates of road deaths in the world!
Applying either zero tolerance or the broken windows theory would have seen 130 tickets or summonses being issued over three hours on that one road last weekend, which would send a signal that speeding on Jamaican roads is not tolerated!
However, after the lawbreakers were held, they were given stern warnings and released by ACP Bishop Welsh.
Speaking at a press conference held on Dunrobin Avenue on August 20 last, where an errant motorist who performed high-speed daredevil stunts on Dunrobin Avenue was pardoned and walked away without being prosecuted, ACP Bishop Welsh stated: “I believe that I should educate people first before I hold them accountable.”
Clearly, ACP Bishop Welsh, OD, JP, believes that only a few motorists know that they should drive within the speed limit and that they should not perform high-speed daredevil stunts on Jamaica’s public roads unless he personally educates them. That is why he personally pardons so many lawbreakers.
ACP Bishop Welsh, OD, JP, is no ordinary police officer. Aside from being chief chaplain of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) between 2010 and 2014, Bishop Welsh was commandant of the Jamaica Police Academy at Twickenham Park between 2009 and 2012, where he trained hundreds of new police recruits in his philosophy of policing.
No wonder lawbreaking is so rampant on our roads! And across the country!
I hope they don’t transfer him to the sexual offences, homicide, anti-gang or anti-scamming arms of the JCF!
The Rev Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.