Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Mark Wignall | Instant remedies and long-term pain

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It is most difficult to have a conversation in Jamaica for longer than 10 minutes without violent crime being a main part of the greater mosaic. The main focus is, naturally, on who will be that highly intelligent, but foolishly delusional, person who will become the next commissioner of police.

It is a great conundrum that most of us who have the most workable of ideas, we are sure, to solve the country's racing murder rate are also those who are most relieved that we do not actually have any political power to make tough decisions.

Two raging, poles-apart ideas on who should be the next commissioner of police centre around placing a commissioner as an assassin commissioned by the State to rid our lives of those who are suspected of being armed killers, and, on the other hand, a commissioner who can think long term but recognises the short-term impediments and expectations.

In the year 2000, two mega businessmen in Jamaica who were themselves Jamaican applied political pressure on the PNP government of the day led by the PNP's P.J. Patterson. They threatened to relocate their head offices to foreign shores if something was not done about the out-of-control murder rate.

In quick time, a police agency inside the Jamaica Constabulary Force called the Crime Management Unit (CMU) was set up. It was headed by Senior Superintendent of Police Reneto Adams.

In time, the CMU was seen by people at street level as a hit squad on the worst of the criminals among us. Its formation could hardly be said to be based on police operational decision as much as it was purely political.

The eating of the pudding and the ultimate of its fine taste came in 2005 when Jamaica recorded nearly 1,700 murders for that year and made its name internationally as the country with the highest murder rate.

I personally like Adams and I think I understand him a little. I suspect that he would know that his claims in 2018 of significantly slowing the murder rate in six months should he be given the commissioner's job has at the very least two main components.

One, he actually does it by applying the power of the State to legitimise gun violence, and, in six months, a lot of bad men are on the run. He retires and pats himself on the back for a job well done in the short term.

Two, those young boys left behind after their fathers, many versions of uncles and big brothers were killed by the new Adams crew, grow up and let loose another round of violence and runway murders. In seven years' time. And we are back to square one.

 

REFORM JCF WHILE FIGHTING CRIME

 

"I hear dem talking bout carrying in a man from outside the JCF to lead di force. Can't work, not gwine work,"said the policeman of more than 27 years' service who wished to remain nameless.

He has worked undercover and with a particular Intelligence arm of the JCF. He even has a dreadlocks wig in the back seat of his car.

'When MacMillan and Lewin, two outsiders were there, we held back on the full intelligence briefings. They were not one of us, so they would never be fully aware of what we are all about."

For a period of three years in the 1990s, Harold Crooks was the commandant of the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF). Recently, we were in touch with each other, and he had some things to say. Some very important things. First, on where we went wrong in policing.

"Our high murder rate can be reduced with no new cost and minor legal amendments. But we have to look to our history, innovate, and embrace the new technologies.

"As a response to a surge in murders and violence in the 1990s, our police began removing the rural police (district constables) from duties in their rural villages and placing them on station duty. So it wasn't long afterwards that urban murderers began to seek refuge and wreak havoc and death in our villages.

"Our trusted district constables (DCs) knew all strangers and were natives of these villages in which they made a living, usually as artisans and small farmers. They patrolled on bicycles or their donkeys in the old days and were rich sources of intelligence for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and were able to intervene early and settle disputes, thus preventing more serious violence.

"The rural police oiled the accepted social-control mechanisms of our rural communities. No policeman or soldier can replicate this form of crime control or prevention at such low cost," said Mr Crooks.

Crooks, who was there longer than most, speaks of a troubling reality that has also been supported by the present national security minister, Bobby Montague.

 

BUILDNING THE NEW POLICE FORCE

 

"It has been recognised that most police forces exhibit necessary organisational features which are features of the mission of an intelligence service. These include the desired skills set of recruits, training, staff control, criteria for advancement, and organisational culture.This may be why both our political parties committed to such a service about 20 years ago.

"Even with bright and well-educated staff, our well-led police are technologically retarded. After 40 years of computerisation, nearly 50 police stations have no email or even a fax machine."

Yes, think about that for a while. We are attempting to nab violent criminals that are highly mobile and well armed with much more than AK-47 assault rifles. They also have smartphones while many police stations are in the dark ages.

Commandant Crooks is also bemoaning the lack of not just the very latest, but what ought to be the most sought at, considering our high murder rate.

"Our police have not created a geospatial intelligence unit. They don't attach licence plate readers to their CCTV cameras, which can tell the direction of travel of criminals.They have only a few shotspotters and not even a few cheap drones to hover over murder hotspots with the necessary geospatial and heat-seeking capacity to track movements during the day or night.

"They rarely deploy special weapons and tactical teams via helicopter to quickly create effective dragnets around murderers since they don't deploy drones for sightings. Our well-managed Defence Force would excel at these tasks but playing second fiddle to the JCF would constrain them."

 

DEMOCRACY AND EXTORTION

 

I think it is safe to say that most so-called thinking people know that it is close to unlikely that the murder rate will slow anytime soon. Those people also can quite understand why most people want to see a return of the Reneto Adams-style of policing.

A university professor who I speak with on the phone quite regularly said to me last week: "I would be condemned if I should ever teach this on campus. But, think about it, democracy as 'the voice of the people is the voice of God' is crap.'

"If it was ever left up to the people of this country to elect a commissioner of police, they would, hands down, elect Adams. Democracy only works among a people who are educated but like to think for themselves and not as a robotic block."

Crooks is adamant that many of the answers lie in how we approach our troubling realities.

"It is common knowledge that extortion money is one means used to finance our criminal gangs. But the offence which requires a complainant is rarely reported due to fear. So our legal minds could easily reframe the offence to be prosecuted without complainants while using technology to conceal the identity of witnesses. This should be followed by fearless undercover police work to ferret out offenders who would attract long sentences."

Next commissioner, are you prepared?

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-sector commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.