Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Letter of the Day: Community policing, a means of crime reduction

Published:Thursday | May 5, 2016 | 5:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Recently, I was engaged in a discussion with some friends. We were debating the factors contributing to crime and violence in Jamaica and the low rate of conviction for murder and other serious crimes. According to Jamaica's 2015 crime and safety report, only 45 per cent of homicides are resolved annually. While crime is linked to factors such as poverty, retribution, gangs, drugs and politics, the lack of information necessary to resolve crime, in my opinion, is due to a poor relationship with, and a lack of trust between, citizens and the agents of law enforcement.

Our discussion covered many possible reasons influencing crime and violence. The main reasons, however, were the usual scapegoat of dancehall music, and more specifically, the violent content of songs played on radio. Dancehall music has been blamed for increased levels of crime and violence for years. If this is the case, however, what about violent movies? I have seen movies that leave nothing to the imagination not only about how to commit criminal acts, but also how not to get caught.

There is a lack of real, hard evidence proving the linkage between escalating rates of crime and violence and listening to music with violent content.

The community policing model used in New York in 1990 proved to be an effective method of crime reduction. According to Delores Jones-Brown, a former New Jersey prosecutor, "Crime began to decline in New York City in 1990 under the community patrol officer programme, which assigned officers to work with community members to identify and resolve problems, gave officers autonomy to creatively respond to the needs of the community, and let officers serve as an information exchange link between the department and the community."

There has been an unfortunate erosion of trust between the police and citizens in Jamaica, especially in the so-called inner-city communities. If, however, we are serious about crime reduction, social order and the economic benefit to be derived from these two positives, then I believe we should start looking at effective community policing as a proper remedy for the high level of criminal activities in Jamaica.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST

 

As the saying goes, trust is easy to lose and hard to gain. It will be a difficult task, therefore, to implement in the short term an effective and workable system of community policing. The law enforcement agents will first have to invest time in rebuilding or creating trust between themselves and citizens. As stated by Mrs Jones-Brown, it is not just about patrolling areas; it is about discussion. Officers are expected to engage members of communities in conversations, creatively responding to the needs of community and eventually creating an avenue for information sharing.

There are factors to consider when adopting a system of community policing in Jamaica. There will be labels of "informer", the usual 'penalty' for which is death. The creation of mistrust between communities and the law enforcement authorities occurred over many years. I suspect that creating trust will be an ongoing process. It is a process, however, that can position Jamaica to achieve an increasingly low rate of crime, admirable social order and a path to economic growth.

Kevin Simmonds