Wickedness in the west - Top crime-fighter in western Jamaica blames long-running social issues and policy deficiencies for high crime rate
Head of the police operations in western Jamaica, Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke, is blaming the culture and the penchant for lawlessness in that section of the island on issues which have existed for decades.
"For many years, western Jamaica has been afflicted by unstructured communities that produce and nurture criminals and gangs. Unstructured communities are the by-products of development all over the world, where industries boom, leaving the personal circumstances of labour behind," said Clarke.
"So, many relocate here to build hotels and generally seek employment, but the social infrastructure has not moved apace with opportunities. The result is overburdened areas, shanty towns, high levels of unemployment and a brutish desperation to share in the foreign-currency earnings on the fringes of the formal dominant tourism industry, by any means necessary," added Clarke.
He argued that: "Before lottery scamming, it was cocaine trafficking, and before cocaine, ganja, extortion, and so on. Scamming is a commodity to the criminals, who will move on to other illicit trades when scamming ends.
"Policing in the western region must not only deal with the principles of law and order, [it] must push against the very cultural fabric of the environment," said Clarke.
While not divorcing the police from some of the issues plaguing crime-fighting in the problematic Area One Police Division, Clarke said socio-economic issues, infrastructural weaknesses and an endemic penchant for criminality are some of the major causative factors pushing the murder numbers.
Clarke also responded to recent criticism about his stewardship by government senator Charles Sinclair, the councillor for the volatile Flanker division in the St James Municipal Corporation.
"As Area One strategic commander, I am responsible for all the policing successes and failures in the parishes of St James, Trelawny, Westmoreland, and Hanover," said Clarke.
"Divisional commanders, under my supervision, are encouraged to stay engaged with the communities personally and through the various media, as the parish level is where the rubber hits the road. They are all supported and guided by me on a weekly, often on a daily basis. [However], I do not compete with them for the spotlight."
CORRUPTION WITHIN THE FORCE
While admitting the presence of corruption in the police force, Clarke said it would be foolhardy to believe that fixing the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) will fix the crime problem, even as stringent efforts are made to weed out the corrupt.
"I accept that the force is in dire need of reform. There is too much corruption, but our resolve is demonstrated by the bringing to book of those who have been found wanting ... more needs to be done.
"Improving the professionalism of our members and the service we provide continues to be a work in progress, and we have come a far way," argued Clarke.
"Most are aware that the situation of crime is not just about policing, that would be too easy. If it was as simple, we would not be where we are. There are those who advocate that fixing the force fixes crime.
"However, the world is replete with examples of First-World police forces grappling with the problem of crime and/or terrorism. Some of the world's most developed cities have been the recent scene of the most gruesome and terrorist acts, repeatedly, and within weeks of each other," said Clarke.
With more than 200 persons murdered in western Jamaica since the start of this year, the veteran crime-fighter pointed to what he described as the disproportionate deployment of crime-fighting personnel to the crime-infested region.
"Although western Jamaica accounts for 40 per cent of the country's violent crimes, there is not an equitable distribution of resources here.
"There is a very serious problem of attrition throughout the force, so as you hear of announcements of 'X' number of people being deployed here, 'Y' number leaves for less stressful employment and more lucrative jobs elsewhere. Western Jamaica needs a campus of the National Police College to recruit, train and deploy here," said Clarke.
"Many people who are not from Montego Bay are of the view that it comprises just the Elegant Corridor, Howard Cooke Boulevard, Gloucester Avenue and Bogue. Montego Bay is, however, a sprawling metropolis of thousands of unseen acreage.
"There is a big challenge with police supervision logistics, as the communities are miles away from each other, keeping the resources where they are to be has been difficult due to indiscipline, incompetent leaders, but most of all, the absence of technology to track our deployed assets," said Clarke.
"I have advocated ad nauseam that service vehicles, especially operational vehicles, need to be equipped with trackers.
"Simple applications, like Fleet Mobi, for example, allow managers to locate vehicles anywhere in Jamaica from cellular phones. This simple capability has been the hardest to achieve. A low-hanging fruit indeed. Every company with the smallest fleet in Jamaica has this capability, but not the JCF in this day and age," bemoaned Clarke.
"We anxiously await the delayed promotion of members to the rank of officer to augment the leadership in the west, as more management and supervision is required in an increasingly challenging crime environment. The anticipation of promotion also makes hopefuls too risk adverse and inimical to objective decision-making, so we urge expedition on this.
"The rumoured and media stories of impending leadership shake-ups are as demoralising as they are unfortunate. Command uncertainty trumps security forces, which thrive on celerity. The crime fight needs confident leaders who are clear on their status of tenure, and not managers with packed bags anticipating their move to elsewhere."
According to Clarke, without creating the right environment to produce the desired result, it is hypocritical to blame police commanders for the crime level.
"Hypocritically, placing the problem of crime at the feet of commanders is scapegoating and shallow reasoning. Shifting around commanders who are as trained and equipped as the best in the world has not fundamentally changed our circumstances," argued Clarke.
"The force needs policy support to enforce the social partnerships necessary to improve the lot of communities when they are normalised. The Barrett Town community is a case in point. After being normalised months ago, the delay in social intervention puts this community at risk for relapse," said Clarke.