Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Colin Gyles | Target murders scientifically and the rest will follow

Published:Sunday | January 5, 2020 | 12:00 AMColin Gyles - Guest Columnist
Effort must be made by the police to assure citizens that they are on the same side and that the police are seeking to serve them rather than to police them.

Applying scientific principles can help in solving the crime problem. If we target murders as a critical action for reduction, the other crimes will follow and, likewise, will be reduced. The focus, therefore, should be targeted to stop murders.

With limited resources, it is not feasible to cover all areas of possible crime at once. The effort and resources should be directed at the most acute problem. Rather than focussing too widely, let the primary focus be to target a critical action that will have the greatest impact on the crime problem.

The scientific path to finding a solution to a problem usually begins with observations then an effort to understand the problem, leading to hypotheses, which must then be tested. Results of the test must then be analysed and the hypothesis tweaked or revamped if an effective solution is not realised. By testing different approaches, there is greater likelihood of arriving at an effective solution rather than simply repeating the same things and expecting different results.

The perspectives presented here seek to stimulate thought and, hopefully, actions that will help to solve what is undoubtedly, one of, if not the most pressing, of Jamaica’s problems. If an approach is tried and it does not yield the expected results, the knowledge of that approach being one of those that did not work should still place us closer to the right solution.

This is in keeping with the normal process of scientific innovation. People who do not understand the process may criticise the failures and even criticise an idea before it has been tested. Because of this, the path of innovation is sometimes a lonely road as others may not immediately see the possibilities that appear so clear to the mind of the innovator.

Of course, the converse may also occur when a bright idea immediately takes traction, is popularly embraced, and is successful when implemented. Going out on a limb to present an idea for consideration and testing is a necessary step that many persons fail to take for fear of failure or ridicule. But it is scientific innovation, when successful, that contributes most to the advancement of society.


Simplifying a problem is usually one of the first steps towards finding a solution. Physics and mathematics teach us to simplify complex problems.

Crime is a complex problem, but there are problem-solving principles that might help to simplify the problem. Among the principles that I would suggest in tackling crime are the following:

1. A critical action may have a rate-determining step, which, once executed, has a ripple effect that propels quickly towards a solution.

2. The most acute problem should be targeted and given greatest priority.

3. A message of zero tolerance, once conveyed successfully, can serve as an effective deterrent.

4. Targeting murders as the most critical issue is the most likely way to obtain buy-in and support for a zero-tolerance approach.


Targeting murders may include the following approaches:

1. Redeployment of police resources to create a network of rapid responders – motorbikes, cars, marked and unmarked – uniformed and un-uniformed personnel, and even disguised personnel on foot to mingle with the crowd at crime scenes to get leads. The aim should be to catch every perpetrator of a murder within 24 hours. The message should be clear that every perpetrator of a murder will be caught within 24 hours.

I think it can be done. Some security companies with a much smaller network than the police have been able to provide more rapid response than the police by strategic geographical placement of personnel and maintenance of constant alertness.

This is one of the features of American policing that we could well seek to emulate – a call to the police emergency number, especially in the event of a major incident of aggression, and the police are on the scene within record time and in their numbers.

No stone is left unturned to find and apprehend the perpetrator. Citizens are encouraged by such a response to cooperate with and support the police. Even supposedly corrupt police, who may not be connected to an incident, are constrained to join an effort along with their non-corrupt colleagues to apprehend a murderer associated with the crime.

2. Police personnel can be given incentives for every instance in which a perpetrator is caught within 24 hours and there is credible evidence that can lead to prosecution. There should also be incentives to the police when no murders are committed within their divisions.

3. Constant patrolling could ensure that a police responder is never far away from a crime scene or never far from being able to foil a would-be crime from being committed. Many would-be offenders could be deterred just by the calm patrolling presence of the police. The aim is not to pick at every minor offence, but to be on alert to stop aggression and be available to respond in the event of a major incident or a potential one.

4. The effort should be more incident-focused more so than geographically focused. When there is a geographic focus, the criminals migrate from the focus area to other areas. So when the focus was on Tivoli, the criminals moved to Montego Bay, and when the focus is on Montego Bay, they move to Spanish Town.

So one area gets quiet, but the number of murders across the country remains high. But when there is an incident-focus, and the moment an individual is involved in an incident, it is almost guaranteed that they will be caught, they may even have weapons and dare not use them. Based on the statistics, three to four murders are committed each day. The primary objective of the entire police force and army support, under this strategy, would be to apprehend the perpetrators of the three of four murders that may be committed on any given day.

When certain operations are incident-focused, there is greater likelihood of having real evidence that can stand up in court to convict the murderer. Success in apprehending perpetrators will be an effective deterrent and will boost public confidence to cooperate in supplying leads to the police.

5. Efforts must be made by the police to assure citizens that they are on the same side and that the police are seeking to serve them rather than to police them. Truth be told, there are more decent citizens than criminals – far more people who only seek to live peacefully than those who need to be policed. But the fearful majority need to be assured and won over to isolate and overcome the selfish or ignorant wrongdoer who seems not to know that it is better for everyone, including themselves, to be peaceful and respecting of others than to be a criminal.

Simply picking up young men from a geographical area without clear evidence linked to an incident will likely end up with these young men being released back on the streets. Nothing much would have been achieved while much time and resources would have been expended and affected persons needlessly alienated.

Further, the police will maintain greater credibility when they apprehend someone in connection with an incident of crime rather than doing so in circumstances that appear arbitrary.


In the final analysis, rather than stretching the limited resources thin, in trying to address crime, in general, my recommendation is to target murders specifically, using a scientific approach, and take critical actions that will have the maximum effect in reducing murders in the short term while we work on other long-term strategies and social interventions.

A message should be conveyed that no murder will be tolerated. Every perpetrator of the three or four murders that are committed each day will be caught even if it means deploying the bulk of the police and soldiers to go after them after an incident.

Once murders are brought under control, the next most serious crime should then become the focus and the process repeated until the incidence of all crimes has been substantially reduced.

- Professor Colin Gyles is a scientist and deputy president at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to