Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Mark Ricketts | State of emergency and the money question

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Soldiers speak to a motorist during an early-morning operation in Rose Heights, Montego Bay, on January 18. The parish of St James has been placed under a state of public emergency.

A state of public emergency is not an easy call for any prime minister, especially when it involves a parish that includes a tourism Mecca like Montego Bay. While tourism is diversified with competing locations, Montego Bay captures the essence and flavour, and even tradition, of Jamaica's invitation to the world. It's our Havana, London, Paris, and for that to be sullied by police-military operations, the abridgement of rights, and restrictions of business hours, the Government must have reached the end of the line.

While the reality on the ground might be somewhat comforting to visitors as they are reassured of safety by our men in uniform, it is the negative image that captures so much of the conversation in our major overseas markets. And, as always, the medium is the message.

As Government responded to the criminal elements with a statement that enough is enough, the violence producers responded with an islandwide bloodletting last weekend. It was as if they wanted to impress the nation that their weaponry is intact and the Wild West has yet to be won.

It also sent a chilling reminder to the Government as to why it introduced the state of emergency in the first place: killings in St James were at record levels; murders islandwide opened the year, not with a whimper, but a bang; a daring shoot-out on the road to the Montego Bay airport earlier; and the ominous travel advisory from the US government.

 

ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES

 

Every time the issue of crime comes up, the Government does everything but allocate adequate resources. They tried ZOSO, which had ample security personnel in two operational zones. There were no murders in the zones, but, after a day or two, there were no major arrests either. The adequate number of security personnel forced the criminals with their guns and ammunition to relocate.

Now, wouldn't it make sense to hire many more policemen, and, for a year, co-opt as many soldiers as possible and blanket Jamaica so the criminals have no place to run and hide? Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis understood this: Control the ring size and the opponent has nowhere to go.

What worries me with the state of emergency and curfews in some hotspots is that an initial flurry of finding guns and detaining people could lull the Government into not wanting to spend the requisite funds to modernise the force, hire the cops needed, and pay them properly. Already in Parliament, the minister of national security was bragging how the criminals are on the run, yet those who committed the horrific murders islandwide last weekend; the 'shottas'; the thousands of gang members; and the kidnappers in Clarendon who have been beheading people are still out there.

No, Mr Minister; no, Mr Prime Minister; no, Jamaica; to cauterise crime, large budget allocations must be made. The state of emergency is a sad image for our beautiful country and should be seen as a needed, but desperate short-term solution because we have been pussyfooting around.

The minister of finance, in a very engaging speech at Mayberry's Investor Forum, listed several positives the economy is now enjoying. Among these, total reserves were an impressive, US$4 billion and net international reserves stood at US$3.4 billion.

Our bonds are oversubscribed on the international markets, facilitating further access. Governments have extracted from the IMF an inching down of the primary surplus-to-GDP ratio, giving the country a little more wiggle room in satisfying its structural benchmarks and maintaining its commendable performance as far as macroeconomic stability goes.

Minister Shaw implied that US$790 million is undrawn at the IMF, and said up to December, revenues exceeded expectations by $13 billion.

It is pointless articulating these achievements unless they can be ploughed into a Jamaican landscape currently bereft of good roads; adequate courthouses; optimal production in an agriculture sector beaten down by rain; and an adequate crime-reduction plan.

Surely, a large-scale capital and recurrent budget allocation must be a priority to finally convey to the society that safety and security of its citizens is Government's No. 1 priority in 2018.

 

High-tech fight

 

At my age, I am betrayed by technology, so rather than wing it, I sat down with the director of the Mona Geoinformatics Institute, Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, on the grounds of the University of the West Indies and asked him for a wish list of the current tools and technologies that the police would need as a matter of urgency to bring down homicides this year. For simplification, he suggested four sections: first, station-level operations, with all police stations having computers, Internet connectivity, operating systems, and databases that are conducive to the collection and dissemination of data.

Second, there are central activities, centred around the Officer of the Commissioner of Police, which take into account mobile, investigation, area divisions, MOCA, and traffic central. Here we are looking at greater technology solutions handling big data from CCTV systems, which integrate public and private video networks, and synchronising public data systems from hospitals, tax offices, and the judicial system. Such inter-agency connectivity would better aid investigation, monitoring, surveillance, and serve as deterrents.

 

IMPROVED TECHNOLOGY

 

Third, there is more sophisticated technology where one can focus on the big picture in areas of counterterrorism and anti-gang activity. For example, ShotSpotters mounted at key points across the country can identify where gunshots originated and better direct response.

Police cars should be equipped with GPS systems that can both allow for central tracking of the police fleet, and aiding in navigating to where they are needed quickly. Then there are drones that give law enforcement a chance to hover, thus allowing persistent situation awareness.

But the police also need a proper command and control centre to facilitate and direct joint intelligence operations.

Fourth, there must be a proper dedicated telecommunications system which facilitates speed and reliability in the collection and dissemination of data, and in sending alerts, both to the general public and within members of the security forces.

But, Dr Lyew-Ayee is insistent that, "as a condition of securing these current tools and technology for the police, there must be months of up-front training in order to build a data culture, and a confidence in capabilities, and for responsible parties to hold the security services accountable based on technology."

It can be done, it must be done. Crime cannot remain unchecked.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.