Owen Ellington, the police chief, has his work cut out for him. Last week, he recommitted himself to reducing Jamaica's murder rate to 12 per 100,000 by 2017 - a target first announced a year ago by his boss, Peter Bunting, but about which the security minister is not, these days, particularly noisy.
This newspaper, as would all rational Jamaicans, hopes fervently that Mr Ellington succeeds. For even with a 36 per cent decline in homicides over the past three years - from 1,683 in 2009 to a projected 1,080 in 2012 - at 40 per 100,000, Jamaica still has one the world's worst homicide rates.
This violence breeds fear, affects social life and has a deleterious effect on the country's economy. For example, the cost of security is a significant, and added, component to the cost of doing business in Jamaica. Credible analyses suggest that criminality annually slices up to seven per cent from the value of goods and services produced in Jamaica. Looked at another way, while crime may, in part, be a symptom of poverty, this criminality induces poverty.
But while we hope the police commissioner's target will be realised, there are reasonable questions to be asked, in the current circumstances, of its achievability and the strategies to be employed if it is to be met. Context is important.
First, after the record year for murders in 2009, when the homicide rate reached over 62 per 100,000, the reversal the following year, when the trend was worsening, was the result of a major and, many would claim, an unplanned shock to the society. Christopher Coke's henchmen, in a bid to thwart his extradition, threatened the state, precipitating the state of emergency that pushed criminal gangs into retreat. Murders declined by 14 per cent in 2010 and the momentum carried through into 2011 with a 22 per cent decline. It has not been maintained.
The police have projected a four per cent decline in murders this year, a sharp decline in the rate of the previous two years, which would be hardly surprising to most Jamaicans in the absence of clearly observable policies, strategies or tactics on the part of the administration or the constabulary that would make an appreciable difference to homicides and criminality generally.
At the current rate of decline, assuming the population remained the same, it would be 2040, 28 years' time, before Mr Ellington's target is met, but it could happen three years earlier if the Jamaican population is by then three million.
For Mr Ellington - we assume Mr Bunting is still on board - to achieve the mark by 2017, the number of murders would have to fall by a bit over two-thirds, to 350, over the next five years, or an average of around 14 per cent a year.
Mr Ellington has told members of the constabulary of his conviction of the achievability of the target "if this trend were to continue". Clearly not the trend of the past year.
What we agree with though, is his assertion that "our strategies must be bold game-changers as anything less will yield marginal reductions or maintenance of current figures". We look forward to those "bold game-changers".
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