Mark Ricketts | Crime reduction is not by accident or luck
“In New Zealand, one of the most peaceful countries in the world, only four police officers were killed by criminal acts between 2000 and 2011. This produces a police death rate by criminal acts of three per 100,000, compared to 150 per 100,000 for the same period for the Jamaican police.” – Dr Herbert Gayle
Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington is convinced that crime reduction is not by accident or luck, but by a certain degree of deliberateness on how the force is managed. Ellington should know, since he had the distinction of watching crime and violence reduce in his nearly five years in charge of the police force.
Some of his ideas in combating crime and violence were impressive and different, and in 2010, his first full year as commissioner, murder declined 15 per cent from a record high of 1,682 to 1,428. For that he won the Gleaner Man of the Year Award for his contribution to national security.
By 2014, his last year in office, murders fell to 1,008, thus recording an overall 40 per cent decline during his tenure. In five consecutive years, crime was the lowest it had been in 13 years.
“Working with the then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting, my goal was to reduce murders to 600 per year by 2017, in line with where Costa Rica was at the time,” Ellington said. Since his retirement from the force, murders have jumped 20 per cent in 2015 and 11 per cent in 2016 to reach 1,350. So far this year, murders have already dwarfed last year’s numbers.
A driving impulse for the former commissioner’s achievements was his grasp of the nexus between public security and economic development. To this end, he wanted Government to indicate a serious commitment to public security and safety by tying investment in security to a clearly agreed percentage of GDP or the Budget. However, the numbers in this year’s Budget, as announced in the Throne Speech by the governor general, are very discouraging in terms of Government’s serious commitment to fighting crime.
Early in his tenure, Commissioner Ellington established five strategic priorities:
1) Reduce crime.
2) Improve public confidence and police confidence.
3) Reduce internal corruption.
4) Protect human rights and human dignity.
5) Improve internal and external communication.
Ellington’s emphasis on strategic priorities was understandable in light of his core competences in strategic management and strategic planning, a first degree in human resource management, then a Master of Science (MSc) in national security and strategic studies.
A major concern for the former top cop at the moment is that not only are murders on the rise, but shootings as well.
“Whenever you are confronted with runaway violence as we are currently experiencing, your first strategy has to be one of containment. This entails ramping up street-policing momentum. There has to be hotspot policing; that’s a detailed, systematic approach to crime in hotspot locations.
“A very strong focus must centre on stop-and-search activities. There should be targeted raids and a strong emphasis on arrests with evidence. Here you hope you can get suspects remanded for a sufficiently long time to prevent them from destroying evidence and to allow your investigative team to ferret out other suspects, if they’re any, or discover other valuable links and evidence.
“Additional benefits to be derived include disrupting planned criminal activity and denying freedom of movement to mobile armed criminals who are responsible for most of the murders involving robbery and shooting.
“When citizens see the right people being arrested and kept off the streets for reasonable periods of time, confidence to share information gets bolstered.
It must always be remembered that intelligence momentum almost always is driven, is influenced, by increased operational tempo.
“Containment benefits from a proactive posture which displaces where criminals hide and where they hide the guns and it helps to build a case against them. But the Government must defend the actions of the police during the containment period.
“Once there is containment, you then transition to community policing. Remember, once you are able to contain the situation, you invariably build back police confidence and confidence in the community.”
Ellington believes that we have to be a little cautious in extolling the value of community-based policing, because if you look around Jamaica, there is social dysfunction in so many areas and many people have a problem embracing law and order. He argues that while community policing has relevance in some communities in many locations, it is necessary to balance our romance and affinity for it with more pragmatic solutions tied to effective intelligence-driven policing aimed at making the country safer.
With violence reaching unacceptable levels, Ellington is somewhat concerned, as he pointed out in my column recently “that the deterrent effect of law enforcement has not visited the Jamaican landscape. No commissioner of police can deliver on a sustainable crime-reduction strategy because effective policing is dependent on an efficient criminal-justice system that guarantees speedy trials, severe punishment for those deserving it, and the protection of the innocent.”
Taking Ellington’s recommendations a step further, defence attorney and immigration judge, Errol Townsend, a Jamaican living in Canada, points out that the focus of any crime-fighting approach must entail more convictions. In his email response to my column, Townsend stated that without more convictions, we are simply engaging in sport fishing: catch and release.
“While swifter trials will help in this regard, that alone will not make any substantial impact on crime, and, may simply, without more convictions, lead to swifter acquittals.”
In answering his own question, how then do we get more convictions in a legal system which he describes as criminal-friendly, Townsend pointed out that “the problem lies with the criminal law and procedure itself.” To correct these, he recommends the following:
1) Judge-only trials (no juries). This works fine in most of the world, including common-law jurisdictions like India and South Africa (see ‘Blade Runner’ trial, appeal, conviction, sentence and resentence). He noted that the majority of our civil cases are tried that way, and so, too, are the majority of lower-level criminal cases in parish courts.
2) There must be full appeal rights for the prosecution.
3)There should be longer detention periods, where the police can hold and question suspects before bail hearing. This period has not changed in ages, despite the size of the police force not keeping pace with increased crime.
4) While the accused should have the right to remain silent, stronger laws mandating adverse interference should be drawn from refusal to testify.
5) Revision of centuries-old horse-and-buggy laws of evidence is imperative. This will reduce the opportunities to exclude relevant evidence.
6) Reverse the onus of proof for third trial on similar offence after two previous similar offence convictions within a five-year period. (Some jurisdictions already require reverse onus where offences are allegedly committed while out on bail).
To Townsend, more convictions must be an essential component of our crime-fighting measures. To Ellington, crime must be reversed and there has to be effective policing, as that raises the chance or likelihood of detection, and once you raise that fear of detection, you start cutting your crime right away.
“But effective policing is dependent on an efficient criminal-justice system which guarantees fast trials of persons charged with a crime, and if convicted, the punishment must reflect the seriousness of the crime and society’s abhorrence of it.”
To me, all this can’t be accomplished in any meaningful and serious way if Government continues to pay lip service to fighting crime as revealed in the recently announced Budget where the recurrent expenditure of the Ministry of National Security has decreased to $56.40 billion from $58.54 billion in the revised estimates for 2016-2017.
Where are our priorities, I wonder?
- Mark Ricketts, economist, author, and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada’s largest financial newspaper. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.