IN A country with Jamaica's high levels of homicide, there is no gainsaying the emotional value of any decline in the absolute and relative numbers of homicides.
So, we do not begrudge the celebration by National Security Minister Peter Bunting, in the pages of this newspaper, about the four per cent decline in the murder rate last year, even though a horrendously high and frightening 1,084 people were killed.
"This figure will be the lowest since 2003 and well below the annual average of 1,467 for the years 2008 to 2011," Mr Bunting noted in his op-ed piece on Sunday.
Very noticeable in Mr Bunting's analysis was his attempt to focus on a discrete political period: 2008-2011 being the four full years the Jamaica Labour Party held the government after nearly two decades of control by the People's National Party of which Mr Bunting is the general secretary.
MURDER STILL A MAJOR ISSUE
Also of note is that, even with last year's decline, there were around 41 murders for every 100,000 persons living in Jamaica, keeping us near the top of the global league table, per capita, for homicides. That rate, however, is a sharp drop from its peak of 62 per 100,000 in 2009 when there were 1,683 homicides.
Viewed another way, Jamaica's homicide rate has fallen by more than a third over the past three years, a useful time frame against which to view Mr Bunting's assessment of his own performance and its impact on the crime statistics and the prospects for the future.
First, it would do well to recall how this decline started. It was the fortuitous result of the former government's bad policy of attempting to stonewall America's attempt to extradite the now -confessed drug smuggler and gunrunner, Christopher Coke.
When the Government finally gave in, Coke's supporters in his West Kingston redoubt attempted to resist his arrest, resulting in a bloody engagement intervention by security forces into Tivoli Gardens in 2010. Consequently, the police gained the upper hand against criminal gangs.
Murders declined that year by 14 per cent, followed by 22 per cent in 2011. The decline last year was four per cent. Mr Bunting, however, argued, essentially, that the Tivoli gains were short-lived, with the homicide numbers rising consistently from the second quarter of 2011, compared to the corresponding period in 2010. That trend, he said, has now been reversed. Maybe.
What, however, is conspicuously absent from the minister's analysis is his pledge of a year ago, when he assumed office, to oversee the decline in the murder rate, over five years, to 12 per 100,000. That target was recently reprised by the police chief, Owen Ellington.
It would be useful for Mr Bunting to say whether he still holds to that target. If he does, a four per cent-a-year decline in the homicide rate won't cut it.
In fact, at that rate, at the current population, it would be the year 2040 - when there would be 327 murders - before the minister's target is met. If the population were three million, the target, at the current rate of decline, would be reached in 2037. But if the minister still holds to his 2016 deadline, murders will have to fall by over 730 or approximately 18 per cent a year.
Over to you, Mr Bunting.
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