Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Ian Boyne | Killing Holness' crime plan

Published:Sunday | March 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Ian Boyne
Soldiers and police could get new sweeping powers if the Holness administration pushes through a bill empowering the security forces to make arrests and conduct searches in special operations.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness making his contribution to the 2017-2018 Budget Debate in Parliament on March 21.
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I hope that the prime minister has learnt by now that no matterhow much he tries to appease human-rights fundamentalists; no matter how much he uses their jargon and exercisesthe utmost political correctness and goes further and actually builds in safeguards that are reasonable, they will still reflexively resist any attempt at crime containment.

You might as well just act, Prime Minister, and forget the nice talk. It is making not one ounce of difference to human-rights fundamentalists. The prime minister was at pains almost literally in his Budget speech on Tuesday to show that he was on the side of human-rights activists (and I believe he genuinely is) and that he was passionately concerned that poor people's rights would not be violated in any attempt at crime containment.

I know that personally, as an inner-city member of parliament, he is not in favour of "extreme and desperate measures" to fight crime. In announcing his much-anticipated plan to declare certain areas "zones of special operations", he was clear to distance himself from Rambo-style policing by stating that "the history of intervention by the State shows that an over-reliance on strong policing measures may attenuate the situation in the short-term but does not bring long-term stability and normalisation". The exact point activists have been making, supposedly in response to me.

His special zones bill, he said, had struck "the right balance of resolute policing with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms". He outlined a strategy of 'Clear, Hold, and Build': The security forces will not only go into certain high-crime communities and clear out criminals and then hold that area until law and order is restored, but social agencies will come in to build that community and provide well-needed services. This is not going in and kicking down people's doors, ransacking their houses, or just scraping up youth from the corners.

His crime strategy would have social intervention as an essential and crucial element. This is exactly what human-rights people have been calling for. I have read the bill carefully. There are important safeguards in this new bill. A member of the joint command of police and army "shall, as far as is possible having regard to available resources", use a body-worn camera when carrying out operations.

In the joint command "shall be persons who, in addition to their general training as members of the Jamaica Defence Force, are additionally trained in human rights, the use of force and community development initiatives". He stressed that also at his post-Budget conference. Human rights-trained security officers must be on those operations. Also, "during the period that a zone is declared, the joint command shall submit a written report to the National Security Council every 10 days".

So there is to be no repeat of Tivoli. There will be accountability. If the written report is not given, the officer "is liable to disciplinary action". Hear this, too: "Where the joint force is carrying out operations in a zone ... a person shall not be arrested or detained unless the person in charge of the operations is satisfied that there is reasonable grounds for the arrest or detention ... ."

If a person is arrested or detained, he must be told why immediately. A person held must be taken to a justice of the peace "forthwith, who will determine reasonable grounds for an arrest or detention. Where a justice of the peace is not satisfied that the arrest or detention is reasonably required in the interest of justice, he shall order that the person be released forthwith".

 

Safeguards

 

There are other important safeguards. Get the bill and read it. Yet the People's National Party (PNP) could issue a statement last week dissociating itself from the bill, saying, "It is clear that this Government is determined to traverse once again the failed pathways of the past by pursuing measures that restrict important safeguards to protect the people from excessive and arbitrary use of state power."

The party decried, "This dangerous turn." Now you see why some despair about Jamaica?

The prime minister, while saying in Parliament that his measures "are urgent and very much needed", was willing to delay them because "it is equally important that they get bipartisan support", through a joint select Committee of Parliament. But when there is a new PNP president being installed today and there is need to pressure this administration on taxes and crime, Holness' idealism will have to be mugged by harsh political realities and realpolitik.

Former security ministers Peter Bunting and Peter Phillips, men for whom I have deep respect, know better than they have been saying in the last few days. When they were security ministers, they saw the need for tough measures. They know the realities on the ground. But their political ambitions are more important at this time than our welfare.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how Holness might regret having to go into certain communities and locking them down he won't use those dreaded words he has to do so. He doesn't have the luxury as prime minister of making the kind of irresponsible statements he made while in Opposition. He reminded us on Tuesday that "Government has a duty to actively ensure that threats to life are minimised . ... Government is not merely a passive observer ... ."

Since I raised the issue of the trade-off between civil liberties and crime fighting recently, we have been inundated with examples of the most shallow and intellectually vacuous thinking. People keep making the point that short-term measures can't solve crime, which is influenced by socio-economic factors. Duh! They need an elementary course in debating. The fact that you need social intervention for sustainable crime containment does not mean tough short-term measures are not needed.

With all of the prime minister's talk about adopting a 'smart' approach to fighting crime and his pretty language appealing to human-rights people in media and civil society, he still has to come back to my view of curfewing certain communities, searching vehicles, detaining people, and giving the police powers to search without a warrant. Yes, he is coming with social intervention, development assistance, and all that, but to lower the murder rate, he has to agree that civil liberties in those communities have to be curtained. That's the only way to clear and hold those areas. Building can only come after that. This is what human-rights fundamentalists will never see, but the prime minister should not be detained by them. They don't have a country to run and can continue to dominate talk shows, interview programmes, and newspaper columns. Prime Minister, don't be held hostage by them.

To impress them, you have to let gunmen continue to roam freely and control those communities while you wait to reform the police force, create a perfect justice system and find billions for community development. Don't bother thinking about curfews, detentions, or searches without warrant before you have that.

The most incisive and insightful commentary given in all this debate was done by that ardent human-rights activist and former acting public defender Matondo Mukulu, in an In Focus article titled 'Rights can be proportionately infringed'. You have to read it. The Constitution is clear that if "demonstrably justified", suspending certain rights is, ah, constitutional. Mukulu says of Section 13 of our Constitution: "What we have here is a provision that confers on the State a right to encroach on our human rights ... . This short and oftentimes forgotten provision offers to an extent the answer to Mr Boyne's critics."

He says further in that well-argued piece: "I am equally perplexed by those persons who give the impression that all rights are absolute. Our Constitution does not prescribe all rights as being absolute." Human-rights fundamentalists, including those in media, are blind to that.

"There will come a time in the country when the rights that citizens enjoy, the qualified ones, must be infringed upon and curtailed." So when media sensationalise my views as "draconian" and "unconstitutional", which Constitution are they reading? High-crime communities in which people's civil liberties are already abrogated must be rid of those criminals while the State restores law and order. If the prime minister is waiting for consensus, we will all be murdered.

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