Peter Phillips | A different model to managing crime
The recent talks between Prime Minister Holness and me, as well as our respective teams, established the basis for sustained cooperation around a unified national effort in the fight against crime. This is certainly a step in the right direction on which we must now build.
The PNP is firmly committed to the fight against crime and building national consensus. Our proposal for the Government and Opposition to engage with other stakeholder groups in short order will advance this cause.
Historically, there have been two approaches to our crime situation - mass suppression and targeted investigations. Past governments have primarily used the suppression model, and that policy continues with the current administration.
We support a different, targeted approach aimed at the ringleaders of crime and based on strengthening our investigative capacity.
The current policy of indiscriminate use of mass detention, facilitated by a prolonged state of emergency (SOE), is at the heart of the suppression strategy. It is a dangerous and unconstitutional one, and Jamaica will certainly reap the whirlwind if we continue down this road.
More than 10,000 people, not including, those in Kingston and St Andrew, have been detained for extended periods, with the vast majority released without charge. The continuation of this wanton abuse of their human rights is guaranteed to leave thousands of young people with a sense of grievance against society. In trying to overcome crime, the Government is, in fact, sowing the seeds of a broader hostility by alienating our youth population and deepening social divisions.
Further, prolonging the SOE in a manner not provided for in the Constitution severely discriminates against small and medium-size business people who have their enterprise as their only means of income. Larger enterprises function freely, while smaller businesses are discriminated against and shut down. The only sustainable, long-term approach to crime fighting secures the broad support of citizens, especially those from low- and middle-income communities.
Lawmakers, Not Lawbreakers
Prolonged mass suppression is not only socially dangerous, but is unconstitutional. A medium- to long-term SOE is destructive of the rule of law for all citizens, not just the people detained.
Jamaica's Constitution states clearly that the suspension of citizens' rights, including the right to liberty, should only take place as a temporary measure in the context of an emergency that imperils the survival of the State or substantial section of the society. The Constitution does not provide for medium- to long-term suspension of rights as a routine part of fighting crime.
Lawmakers should never be lawbreakers. Upholding the Constitution is not just legalistic frolic indulged in by constitutional lawyers. It is fundamental for the regulation of our everyday lives, including commercial transactions. Lightly dismissing constitutionality has grave and broad implications for a society already plagued by disorder and indiscipline.
Furthermore, the effectiveness of the SOE began to diminish after the initial shock and awe. Indeed, the JCF Periodic Serious and Violent Crimes Review, January 1, 2018, to December 30, 2018, shows that the impact of the SOE on the national murder rate is already experiencing diminishing returns. There was a clear downward trend between January and June 2018 in the number of murders occurring each month. However, that number has levelled off since July, and there has been no further decline.
In addition, other measures of policing effectiveness have gone in the wrong direction. With the suppression model of the security forces in 2018, there were significantly fewer arrests, as well as fewer guns and less ammunition seized compared to 2017.
Instead, we strongly recommend a more fine-tuned strategy focused on targeting the leaders of the 300 crime gangs in Jamaica. It is these gang leaders who control crime and are responsible for our high homicide rate.
This strategy, which focuses on netting big fish, requires a strengthening of our intelligence capacity. It also requires the reinforcement of our capacity to disrupt gangs and to detain and convict major criminals. At present, the conviction rate for murders in Jamaica is somewhere in the order of five to six per cent, which means that approximately 94 per cent of murders occur without anyone being penalised.
Criminals must not be allowed to feel that they can commit murder and get away with it, or that they will be put back on the road for three, four, or five years on bail while the prosecution gets prepared for the case. This is where valuable witnesses are also more vulnerable to violent attack and intimidation.
Another urgent priority is the passing of the Intelligence Collection Act to facilitate the intelligence-gathering process and enable more effective building of cases so that criminals can be convicted and locked away. Improved intelligence will also create the need for the establishment of a Special Major Investigation Task Force in each of the police's operational areas. Each task force would have dedicated legal/prosecutorial expertise to assist in the preparation of cases.
Consequently, another element of the PNP's crime-management proposals requires the setting up of special courts to deal with murders and violent crime. This is critical to alleviate the urgent challenge while overall justice reform continues.
The gains made in the areas under the recent states of emergency have been primarily the result of the increased police-military presence in the most affected communities. We have insisted and have been assured that there will be no reduction in the operational tempo of the joint security forces following the conclusion of the SOEs. We will be monitoring this very closely to ensure that the Government abide by this solemn commitment.
In order to sustain this, steps must be immediately taken to review the recruitment process to increase the numbers in the police force.
While the establishment provides for a complement of 14,000, the present number of officers serving is somewhere in the region of 10,500. Our ratio of one officer to 266 citizens is one of the lowest in the Caribbean. A police force undermanned by 25 per cent is unacceptable in Jamaica's context of high levels of crime and murder.
There can be no higher priority for the use of the expanding available resources of the Government's Budget than the needs of the police force for greater mobility, technology and equipment to combat crime effectively. The present shortage of effective radio systems, war-like stores, intelligence gathering and other investigative tools must be corrected.
As we have demonstrated before with the Citizen Security and Justice Programme, Unite for Change, and the effective role played by the Peace Management Initiative, the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of citizens living in high-crime communities is a essential to curbing violence.
These proposals have formed part of our recent discussions with the Government. We have also agreed that our respective legal teams will meet to examine areas in which new legislation or amendments to existing laws can further enhance the capacity of the security forces to deal with serious organised crime within the framework of the Constitution. We have urged the Government to utilise the Zone Of Special Operations legislation to a greater degree than they are now doing. Most of the powers they seek exist within that legislation.
The PNP remains convinced, however, that the solution to crime rests not in the short-term, wholesale infringement of rights of large numbers of citizens, but in the creation of effective law enforcement based upon the respect of citizens' rights and the security forces' ability to identify those responsible for criminal acts and convict them before a court of law.
We remain open to collaboration and dialogue with all who share this objective for Jamaica.
- Dr Peter Phillips is leader of the Opposition and president of the People's National Party. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An invitation was made to Prime Minister Holness for his views on SOEs, but a submission did not arrive in time for publication.