Bunting surge vs the crime surge
National Security Minister Peter Bunting announced his security surge last week in response to the crime surge sweeping Jamaica, with the country experiencing a 22 per cent increase in murders since the start of the year.
The military will join the police in patrolling the streets and new protected mobility vehicles will be rolled out by the military - the first since the V150s were acquired in the 1970s. These vehicles will help the security forces, particularly in the terrain of western Jamaica, where traditional cordon, and, search operations have been challenging. Also, as of last week, senior officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have hit the streets to join rank-and-file policemen and women - 80 per cent of whom have been dispatched to the streets and away from offices.
The signal is clearly being sent to the criminals that the fight is being stepped up against them. But we have seen these surges before, then crime ebbs and then goes up again. Yes, that might be so, but when there is a surge in crime, there needs, correspondingly, to be a surge in state response, using toughness and hard policing to counter dog-heart criminal behaviour.
Also last week, the commissioner of police appeared before Opposition Security Spokesman Derrick Smith's Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament to answer questions about the spike in murders this year and the JCF's response. In the part of his address, which the press was allowed to hear, the police commissioner spent much time talking about gang-related murders which constitute the bulk of murders in Jamaica. While there is a strong perception of insecurity generally in Jamaica, the fact is that major crimes, except murders are down and most murders are gang-related in some way. And the murders are concentrated geographically. St James has recorded the largest number of murders (185 or 18 per cent) followed by Clarendon with 110 or 10 per cent and Westmoreland with 88 or 8.4 per cent.
Interestingly, in the traditional hot spots of the Corporate Area and St Catherine, there were 428 murders or 42 per cent, compared to 610 or 58 per cent in the rural areas. First time country people would say they are not coming to town for dem fraid a Kingston people. Now that has been reversed. In 2001 the Corporate Area and St Catherine accounted for 72 per cent of murders, compared to 28 per cent in rural areas.
Lotto scamming activities have accounted for much of the crime in Western Jamaica and some of the gangs have migrated there to escape the pressure on them in the Corporate Area and St Catherine. The fact that so many murders are associated with lotto scamming has led Minister Bunting to launch another initiative the 'Do di Math' public education campaign. This campaign is designed to show that lotto scamming is not victimless. In other words, it's not just a matter of ripping off some white people in America who have a lot of money and who should be sharing it with black people anyway.
It is not 'reparation', as some of our misguided dancehall deejays and others have promoted. It is not taking from the rich to give to poor black people so dem can 'live some life'. It is taking away lives of innocent family members of lotto scammers whose deals have gone sour. It is swaying vulnerable youth into an activity which ends up taking their lives in large numbers. One of the interesting sets of statistics police commissioner Carl Williams gave to the parliamentary committee last week was that as many as 493 persons who were murdered, or 47 per cent of crime victims, were either gang members or closely associated with a gang member or gang.
Crime cannot be tackled in Jamaica without a holistic, integrated approach - precisely the kind of approach being taken by Bunting today. Crime fighting is more than policing, though hard policing is necessary and is needed at this time. Criminals have to be scared. The police must take over the streets instead of criminals. Yes, I prefer us as citizens taking over our streets, but if criminals run us off, the police must take those streets back to make them safe for us. We must cede no territory to criminals.
In his address at the handing-over ceremony of motor vehicles to the JCF last Monday, Bunting was gracious: "Successive administrations have sought to use the best available resources in this country to fight crime". It's no use playing politics with crime and giving the impression that Jamaica Labour Party ministers of national security have not tried. Sneering about changing three national security ministers and how many police commissioners under the JLP is no indictment on that party. It means the party was intent on seeing a serious reduction in crime and impatient of slow results.
It says more about the intractability of our crime situation than any failing on the part of the JLP itself that the administration had to change its security ministers. Let's not either politicise nor personalise this issue. The opposition spokesman on security did his best when he was there. Dwight Nelson did his best and so did Trevor McMillan.
Bunting gave recognition in his speech on Monday to the efforts of his predecessors by saying of successive administrations: "We have invested billions of dollars, deployed thousands of dedicated men and women, developed and implemented scores of crime-fighting strategies, established special squads and agencies and enacted new legislation in an effort to make the county a safe place".
But he went on to say that: "These measures have had varying degrees of success for limited periods, but none has resulted in the sustained reduction in the levels of crime and violence, especially murders that all of us as citizens of Jamaica desire for our country." Security is one area that should be out of the political football game, for it is too serious an area of national concern. Irresponsible, reckless statements must not be made. Bunting is right: "This history underscores the importance of taking the fight against violent crime outside of the political point-scoring arena and into sincere solutions and mature debate on strategy and direction".
I said at the beginning of the year that Bunting had brought in game-changing strategies. I was attacked and ridiculed as murders began to increase this year. Listen, we have to look beyond the immediate; beyond just today in assessing crime strategies. Bunting's deep understanding of the link between our dancehall and decadence, our dysfunctional family life, our high rates of fatherlessness, large numbers of unattached youth, marginalised males, high tolerance for violence and our decline in communitarian values is refreshing.
You can't solve this crime problem if you don't deal with social and economic issues as well as issues of values and attitudes. As Bunting said last Monday : "Changing social norms is the most challenging element of the strategy as it is by its very nature a slow process". The drive for better parenting, to deepen voluntarism, community cohesion and the stress on social intervention initiatives is very important in stemming crime. The human rights activists are right that simply pulling youth from the corner and locking them down is not the answer. Curfews (which have declined significantly under Bunting), searches, and deploying the military on the streets don't represent long-term solutions.
For us to successfully tame the crime monster we have to take the precise approach Bunting is taking. His integrated, holistic, comprehensive approach which also involves significant legislative change as well as prison reform is precisely the approach needed. Bunting is on the right track.
The country must unite around a common set of objectives. We must invest heavily in security. We must prioritise it. I was pleased that last week Bunting announced a Rule of Law working group which will operate just like the Economic Policy Oversight Committee (EPOC) and the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET). It is headed by Howard Mitchell, an achiever, and vice-president of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (and a man with strong connections to the JLP and who was very influential under the Golding administration.) This is an important group which will report to Partnership of Jamaica chaired by the prime minister and consisting of representatives from civil society, the unions, the churches and the private sector. We need that broad-based oversight group for security .
We cannot play politics with security, while the criminals unite across gangs to snuff out our lives.
- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org