Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Ian Boyne | Bring on preventative detention!

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Preventative detention is a useful strategy in the security forces' arsenal to curb violent crime.
The concept of preventative detention has triggred pushback from human-rights campaigner.
Ian Boyne
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My critics have provided not one practical measure that could possibly save lives tonight. Not one. They howl about 'knee-jerk' reactions, rail against my 'panicking' and putting forward 'bankrupt ideas that have not worked in more than 40 years', but they can't provide one alternative that could affect the murder statistics you will wake up to tomorrow. But preventative detention could. Bring it on!

Come clean like Horace Levy of Jamaicans for Justice and admit that nothing can be done instantaneously to halt the spate of murders. For those who are not prepared to accept that, moving certain dog-hearted criminals from off the streets through preventative detention - however temporary - can save some lives tonight. Police reform, justice reform, social intervention, etc, are long term. In the long run, we are all dead.

We need a real dialogue on crime. Not the dialogue of the deaf that has been ensuing. We are arguing past one another. I often find our level of discourse in Jamaica to be appallingly low. Emotion is privileged over reason; intuition over scholarship and intellectual rigour. Some mistake abuse for an argument. It is not. It is usually the failure of intellectual nerve.

People are arguing against my position that immediate crime-control strategies need to be adopted by lecturing me about the root causes of crime, the need for social intervention, and a host of things that I fully completely agree with. In my view, it is not either-or.

Here's the contradiction: The same journalists and commentators who are wailing every day and hysterically screaming for the Government to "do something now" to deal with crime and who are calling for Robert Montague to resign because murders are spiralling out of control can't recommend one thing that could cut crime this weekend. Listen to them carefully. Nothing they say is about now. People's National Party Senator Lambert Brown is different. Lami gave a forceful presentation in his State of the Nation address two Fridays ago, which Portia has wisely made her party's official position.

Lami says, "Remotivate the police. The Cabinet should urgently agree to undertake the payment of the legal expenses of members of the security forces arising from confrontation with criminal elements. This should include the cost for lawyers appearing before INDECOM and in court if necessary." This is something which, if Cabinet meets tomorrow and it is passed, could have an immediate effect on emboldening police in confronting 'dutty' criminals. Police personnel, in protecting us, should have the State's protection.

 

MATTER OF URGENCY

 

That suggestion of the senator's is of immediate practical value. His suggestion to rigorously implement the anti-gang law and target the dismantling of gangs can be done today. Lami is right: If nearly 70 per cent of murders are gang-related, there has to be a greater focus on that. So while domestic violence and abuse of our children must be given special attention, I can understand many people's disappointment with the prime minister's press conference last week. People's expectations were high. The prime minister has to make good on his promise made to us on January 1 that he would be separating criminals from certain communities "they have captured", and "establishing the rule of law where it is absent". This is urgent.

He promised to create "... zones where the security forces and other government agencies would be able to conduct special long-term operations in high-crime areas, including extensive searches for guns ... . That needs to be done as a matter of urgency. Yes, go after the little taxi man with his 'robot taxi' and pressure him to de-tint his vehicle. But there are bigger fish to fry.

I fully understand Mark Golding's frustration with that press conference last week. But, in fairness to the prime minister, he has been saying that his security ideas would be unveiled over a period of weeks, and he did say after his press conference that he would yet present a fuller picture on crime.

I strongly recommend that Senator's Brown's recommendations be taken seriously, including his recommendation for dedicated court facilities to allow for fast-tracking of cases involving gang activities. This is the kind of constructive dialogue we need on crime.

Lami can attack me on my 'draconian proposals', for at least he has recommended some things that can have an immediate impact on the crime figures. The Utopians and idealists who are hyperventilating are bankrupt when it comes to what Government can do today.

Nothing they are suggesting - fixing family life, creating full employment, abolishing poverty, educating all our children, community empowerment, eliminating corruption in the police force, fixing justice, spending billions more on security - can be implemented this week. So admit it. we just have to live with the four to five murders a day in the meantime.

But preventative detention can take some dangerous fellows off the road today and save some lives tonight. You can't keep them long, but you can harass them and make life hard for them. You can call them in and inform them that they are being monitored. There is a real problem, though, that people like me have to admit: There is a strong tendency for the police to abuse power. This is not something mischievous human-rights people are inventing.

Many in the police force are corrupt. Some will use the powers of preventative detention to deal with enemies - including man who a sleep wid dem woman. They will frame people. There is the possibility of serious abuse. This is why the safeguards the attorney general has stressed are so important. I get the strong sense from Andrew Holness, and also from the attorney general, that they are extremely sensitive to issues of human rights. Holness, particularly, is very sensitive to public sentiment on this issue, and perhaps that's why he stuck largely to talking about domestic violence and violence against our women and children - for there, everyone would agree with him.

I think this Government will try its best to ensure that whatever measures it adopts, they'll meet the human-rights test. But the Government doesn't have the luxury of not doing anything. The Government can't say like that esteemed, first-rate journalist Cliff Hughes that most of the force is irredeemably corrupt, so we have to disband them. We have to work with this force until it is reformed. That's the real world we live in, Cliff.

The country's pre-eminent criminologist, Professor Anthony Harriott, a man with an impressive progressive pedigree, said in his GraceKennedy Foundation lecture in 2009 that "mass arrests may favourably alter the fundamentals of the crime problem if they are used to signal a shift in power from the dons".

Going into communities and scraping up youth and youth from corners is absolute madness and only alienates decent people from the police. The police must do their work and know who the big violence producers are. Go after them! It is their right to murder that I want to curtail, no matter how the media and my own paper frame my position otherwise.

Two Thursdays ago, Professor Harriott gave a most important lecture on 'The Dudus Effect', showing how crime went down islandwide after that decisive state action. Not one media house covered him, even though his lecture was prominently advertised. We don't respect scholarship. We are into sensationalism.

Harriott showed how poor investigative work by the police makes detentions of limited value, for people have to be released anyway. He cited a case of 4,000 persons detained and the police admitting that of the 100 most dangerous behind bars, only 20 could reasonably be prosecuted. I get it. The police have to do their work much better right now for us to contain crime adequately.

Harriott makes a critical point, which is what I think makes Holness so cautious: "To make sustained headway with the (crime) problem, we need a social consensus on how to proceed. Policy must have wide popular support."

Jamaica was united in the view - including media and human-rights activists - that the Dudus Empire had to be crushed. We need similar consensus today to deal with crime.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.ianboyne1@yahoo.com.