Jamaicans have a love-hate relationship with the police. The extreme sacrifices that most policemen and policewomen make; the study and career advancement; the arduous and long hours that they work; the sometimes dangerous assignments; the missions of mercy; the rescuing and safeguarding of lives; the protection of property; the general keeping of peace and order in society all seem to evaporate whenever rogue cops commit wrongs. In spite of the bad image that a few cops portray to the public, whenever the vast majority of our citizens are in imminent danger or in need of assistance - especially rapid response - they still call on our police.
Last Thursday, the Ministry of National Security revealed the figures for the Quarterly Major Crime Statistics Review for the period January 1 to March 31, 2011. They were compared to the corresponding quarters for 2008-2010. First-quarter murders peaked at 426 (in 2010). During this year's first quarter, the number of murders fell significantly to 238, a 44 per cent decline). The number of shootings also declined precipitously, from a peak of 442 for the first quarter of 2010 to a new low of 273 in the first quarter of this year, a decline of 38 per cent. Reported cases of carnal abuse and break-in declined by 25 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively. Compared to the 2010 first quarter, there was a five per cent increase in reported cases of rape and a statistically insignificant change in the figures for robberies, but larceny went up sharply. In spite of the various increases, overall there was a 13.7 per cent decrease in major crimes (January-March 2011).
Compared to the previous three years, the beginning of this year saw a record number of arrests by the Criminal Investigation Bureau, regular and special constabulary, and district constables (combined) totalling 7,199. The significance of this particular statistic is debatable. Some will ascribe it to heightened police vigilance, increased presence and more thorough/ painstaking information gathering and detective work.
However, I am sure that some will chalk it up to the superfluous use of the powers of arrest. Others will probably say that it is most likely due to a bit of both. For my part, I would like to believe that the increased number of arrests is due to more assiduous police work than to any other factor.
do not broadbrush
Amid my accolades for the constabulary, I am grateful for the work done by our human-rights watchdogs. They provide some of the essential checks and balances needed as part of the overall regulatory framework in which all authoritative bodies should operate. Although there was a recent outcry of alleged human-rights violations and extrajudicial killings, we must remember that we ought not to broadbrush the entire constabulary when decrying negative occurrences. Encouragingly, in spite of the recent report regarding the number of killings (labelled 'extrajudicial', but likely also representative of justified shootings) by the police, the first-quarter statistics for the number of fatal shootings involving the constabulary are at the lowest they have been in three years (down by 37 this year compared to last year).
The minister of national security, Dwight Nelson, précised by crediting aggressive anti-crime measures, anti-gang strategy and increased police-military presence in known hot spots for the first-quarter reduction in major crimes.
Obviously, the police deserve kudos; however, I am greatly concerned because they cannot go it alone. The multifaceted nature of crime demands that civil society, and especially our politicians, play their part, or the reduction will be nothing but a respite.
Garth A. Rattray is a physician with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.