Martin Henry | For a safer Jamaica, Christmas and beyond
It is a great time to rerun the essence of '72 hours to a safer Jamaica', a column I first published on October 11, 2015, and from which I have subsequently drawn points in other crime columns in grim recurring commentary. You have to keep telling them till dem hear.
Christmas a come and the police are about to do the annual saturation exercise, flooding the streets with those who are not out sick from wage negotiationitis to keep this busiest commercial and people-movement season as safe as possible. They know this strategy works.
Struggling to staunch the blood flow in St James and its capital, Montego Bay, the Police High Command shelved its regular review meeting last Monday in favour of a crime-reduction summit involving leaders in the west and their predecessors. More than 300 people have been killed in this one bloody parish, and the rest of the country remains hot, with murders to date this year at over 1,400, exceeding last year by some 26 per cent.
There has been a frequent rotation of officers in leadership as a 'solution' to the crime problem. An old trick. The rotator, the commissioner, like the rest of us, very well knows that this strategy does not work. It only gives the appearance of doing something.
The Supplementary Estimates have just come out, adding some $90 billion of expenditure to the Budget. Security got $2.5 billion more. Which is something, and better than nothing. But the pitch, backed by the prime minister, we hear, was for $9 billion.
The failure of the Cabinet, and OF the Parliament that votes Budgets, to treat crime as the national public emergency that it is, is a travesty and a piece of first-class folly. I have regularly proposed here and elsewhere that the Government absolutely must repurpose a small percentage of Budget allocations to all ministries, departments, and agencies to Security and Justice for dealing with this national public emergency.
The prime minister has been bothering us with talk of a Cabinet reshuffle. And street talk is that Robert Montague is to be shuffled out of National Security. This will do about as much good as the police leadership rotations and change of commissioners. Three-card trick. Bobby Montague is a bright and articulate man who has brought some good ideas and bold leadership to the graveyard security portfolio. He's now being crucified because the very good idea of purchasing more pre-owned vehicles than fewer new ones for the force has bombed at lower levels of the procurement process below the policy level.
Montague's Five Pillars Plan for crime and violence reduction is practically sensible and eminently workable ( if made to work beyond dabbling and sampling) Swift and Sure Justice; Crime Prevention through Social Development; Situational Prevention; Rehabilitation and Redemption; Effective Policing.
Nowhere is dabbling and sampling more evident than in the weak operationalisation of the zones of special operations. Only two. There must be more than two score and ten qualified communities for ZOSO intervention. The citizens in the two may complain about the security checks and the slowdown of business, but they are rejoicing in a level of security that most of them are not old enough to have ever known. They want the extension. And other communities are calling to be a ZOSO.
I flatly refuse to buy the argument of lack of capacity to mount more than two little ZOSOs at a time and over very limited geographical areas. Not if there is a mass mobilisation of the security forces to crush crime. Long-term, manpower-intensive strategies for clear and hold are completely unnecessary.
Deploying security-force personnel to check IDs of the same handful of people day in, day out is a complete waste of time. The slaughter continues a mile away, as is the case in Montego Bay and south Kingston. The criminals, murderers, violence producers must be tactically pushed on to the back foot, thrown into confusion and disarray, and cleared out alive or dead.
Government and people are crowing loudly over the seizure by American law enforcement of a shipment of 119 guns destined for Montego Bay. There are few tears over the failure of law enforcement here to track the shipment into the criminal underworld and to seriously disrupt organisation and operations. But how many other shipments have come through? The country is corked with tens of thousands of illegal firearms that circulate in a massive rental trade and can be easily replenished, and furnished with ammunition, in cross-border supply.
This may be radical, but it's a weak strategy and mostly a waste of time to try to mop up illegal firearms as the security forces have been trying to do for decades and failing. It's punching a hole in water. In any case, as simple calculation will quickly indicate, the vast majority of illegal weapons have not wounded or killed anyone.
A vastly superior strategy is to decommission the guns by making it too risky to use them. Montague's "swift and sure justice". The shotta must be made to understand by tough, consistent, and example-setting law enforcement action that if he uses a firearm, the probability of him getting shot and killed or arrested and locked away for long by law enforcement is very real and very high. Those guns will rust away or be beaten into ploughshares.
Our officers in uniform need more equipment and facilities. And we absolutely need more of them, perhaps twice as many. We need more capability for intelligence-driven policing and far more forensics capacity. We need more courtrooms and more judges and judicial staff. And we absolutely need more prison space. Lots more.
In the meantime, there are some things the 18,000 or so members combined in the JCF and the JDF can do on the ground, now, not tomorrow, to make our country a safer place.
The police mobilise for saturated street coverage at Christmas because they know it works. And then they retreat to stations and offices until next Christmas. In 72 hours, three days, for a start, Jamaica can visibly start to become a safer place. With measurable reductions starting to happen in murders, extortion, scamming, praedial larceny, robberies, traffic violations, public transport violations, vending violations, environmental breaches, noise abatement violations. The whole gamut of crime, lawlessness, and disorder.
TAKE BACK THE STREETS
The security forces, by simply being there, need to take back the towns and streets of Jamaica, the public spaces, which the public authority controls. There is a psychology to crime and lawlessness that is very well known. People will push the limits and do what they can get away with without being apprehended. But people also, to an overwhelming degree, yield to visible and serious authority. And people modify their behaviour from observing exemplary cases of punishment.
Our security forces, with full respect for human rights, on a day not to be announced, must move to take control of the town centres and commercial hubs and transport centres of our major townships by sheer presence. Almost as a military operation. They must control with presence the known urban crime hot spots. I strongly supported ZOSO on the assumption that this was its intention.
The security forces must take out of circulation crime leaders and gang leaders on even minor, but stickable, offences. They must police the softer quality-of-life laws as well, which will send a massive national signal of seriousness of intent in restoring law and public order.
We will need roaming rapid response backup units. Western Jamaica was to get a permanent Mobile Reserve base. Where is that now?
The creaking justice system, as is, cannot handle all of this new pressure, which aggressive policing would thrust upon it. Which is one reason that serious policing isn't seriously attempted. While we await a new prison, part British-supplied or otherwise, we have to consider amnesty for short- and medium-term low-risk prisoners who have done more than half of their time. We have to think of temporary facilities better than Tower Street and Spanish Town.
The courts will have to do a lot more non-custodial sentencing. And while not the main purpose, more fines will contribute to desperately needed public revenue that can cycle back into law enforcement.
We should freeze all old cases in the system beyond a certain cut-off date and in certain categories to be properly determined and free up court time for the fresh, new cases coming in from the Safer Jamaica operation.
We will need to appoint more magistrates who can sit for court under a tent in the yard of the police station.
For maximum psychological impact, not to mention maximum justice, the doctrine of habeas corpus should be strongly reinvigorated. Accused persons should be taken before a magistrate forthwith and their cases disposed of in the shortest possible time fully within the law.
The police must make 119 work better. With every citizen having two cell phones, we must be encouraged to call in law-breaking information with the double assurance of security and quick action.
The current minister of national security, having sought divine intervention, like the minister before, and added obeah intervention, we now need bold human intervention. And good results will start pouring in inside of 72 hours of launching Operation Safer Jamaica along the lines I've been advocating.
- Martin Henry is a university administrator.