Sun | Feb 18, 2018

Crime disease - Treat flare-up of violence as public-health issue, says Bunting

Published:Saturday | February 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMMark Titus
Peter Bunting

Western Bureau:

With crime at an all-time high in western Jamaica and the crime-fighting strategies seemingly ineffective, Peter Bunting, the Opposition People's National Party's (PNP) spokesman on national security, wants to see a change in strategy.

Speaking on Thursday night in Montego Bay, St James, during the first in a series of islandwide consultations by his party, which are being staged under the theme 'Stronger Together - Break the Silence, Break the Violence', Bunting said that with the current strategies not yielding the desired results, other measures should be employed.

Using the approach of the World Health Organisation as a reference, Bunting said the organisation uses 10 fatalities per 100,000 to declare an illness an epidemic. He said that with a murder rate at 145 per 100,000 in St James last year, the Government needs to employ a public-health approach to combatting the violence.

"Just as how you have an epidemic of flu or an epidemic of Zika, public-health specialists treat violence as an epidemic, and the interesting thing is that just as with an epidemic of flu or cholera or any contagious disease, the greatest predictor of a case of violence is a previous case of violence," said Bunting.




According to the national security spokesman, it was out of the realisation that hardcore policing alone could not work why, in the last PNP administration - in which he served as minister of national security - they designed and launched the programme, Unite for Change.

"We recognised that violence was an outcome of the failure and weaknesses of many different levels of the society and that it would take a multidisciplinary or multisectoral approach to tackle it," noted Bunting, who said he favoured smart policing over hard or soft policing.

In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated that while the public seems to want tough measures, such as hanging and a state of emergency, his government is not looking at those strategies.

"The option of going out and tearing down people's homes, shooting before being certain, or using abusive force is not available to us and, for me as a person, that is not in my character. Therefore, as leader of this country, that will never happen under my watch," Holness said.

Insofar as Bunting is concerned, a larger and more professional police force, proper hotspot policing, violence-interruption strategies, better investigation, modern legislations and speedier trials are superior measures to some of the approaches the public is calling for.

In rejecting the call for a return to hanging, Bunting said his view is that it is not the severity of the punishment that will deter criminals, but the certainty of being caught.