Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Crime: A- for Bunting

Published:Sunday | January 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM
National Security Minister Peter Bunting (left) and Police Commissioner Owen Ellington (centre) can take credit for improvements in crime management. They are joined by Assistant Commissioner of Police Carl Williams in this June 2012 file photo. - File

Orville Taylor, Contributor

AT THE end of the Christmas term, in 1970-something, I noted with dread that my report card was due, and nervous that Miss Ivy (my mother) would give another meaning to Boxing Day, wondered how anything positive could be salvaged from it. Like the apologists for the People's National Party (PNP), the argument was that one couldn't judge a semester's performance based on the number of months in it and my four-month evaluation should be done on the nine months in the year.

Of course, that was ludicrous and nothing could embellish the chilling comment from the vice-principal: "Orville may have to repeat second form." Then the dagger came from one of my favourite teachers in one of the subjects that I didn't do badly in: "Laziness is going to ruin his work." An important lesson was learned. Harsh criticism is not necessarily to tear one down; rather, it is often a call to act.

Nevertheless, although the card was a failure overall, there were some areas in which there was good performance; and so it is with the PNP government. Even without the open letter, the work of the security minister, as evidenced by the performance of the commissioner of police, his officers, sub-officers and rank and file in making a dent in crime, has to be a black mark (with black for me always being positive). This is one of the times when bunting is not simply the superficial vinyl strips decorating outdoor locales.

While ministers can't take inordinate credit for the performance of their functionaries, although some do, Bunting must be commended for having the sense to recognise that Owen Ellington, for all the antipathy surrounding his initial appointment and the disquiet among some elements of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, was doing his work and earned the respect and support of the constabulary. This allowed him and his (mostly) hard-working staff to fight crime. All practitioners in human resources know that one of the best determinants of performance is recognition and appreciation. It ranks above pay.

Major crimes fell

All major crime categories fell. Three sevens clashed, serious violent crimes, sexual offences and theft, all declined by the magic seven per cent. More sevens again: seven police divisions had double-digit reductions. Notably, the greatest percentage 38 per cent in St Thomas and the largest absolute numbers, from the unwieldy St Andrew North are in Area 5, where the highest-ranking female in direct control of operations, is posted. Firearm seizures and narcotics recovery stepped up by 19 and 41 per cent, respectively. Finally, after years of unsuccessfully trying to reduce the number of road fatalities to below 300, the year 2012 saw a ceiling of 258; much credit to the unambiguous and clear language of Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis, whose action is as lucid as his words.

Sexual offences against children have diminished as well and this is, indeed, due to the vigilance of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse. However, it must be also recognised that the previous PNP administration passed the Child Care and Protection Act in 2004, which forces out the offenders in the sunlight and penalises the silent.

One should also note the Island Special Constabulary Force has some impressive statistics regarding hard crimes as well as softer issues such as the environment. When added, it's thumbs up.

Hopefully, to the pleasure of local and international human-rights groups, police fatal shootings have also been reduced by the ubiquitous seven per cent. While the minister accredits this to "continued improvement in operational planning and observation of the Use of Force Policy", it must not be ignored that 'bad bwoy dem understand di levels'.

One overlooked statistic is the number of acts of violence carried out against the police. Even between 2006 and 2007, when almost one cop per month was murdered, the majority of attacks were not when they were actively involved in operations. This suggests that the felons at some point felt that they could have done what they pleased with confidence that they would have little likelihood of being detected and prosecuted.

Long arm of the law

The fallout from the whole matter which climaxed in the Tivoli Gardens incursion and the extradition of Christopher Coke, has to have had an impact. A clear message was sent to the underworld that the long arm of the law is even made out of 'lastic' and can stretch anywhere.

It is an important memo which has been sent and Scallawas and top 'shottas' are getting it, although bottom 'shottas' are still under the radar.

Even within the constabulary, there is a recognition that the organisation has taken the requisite castor oil and senna pod and is purging the deviants, thus making it a cleaner entity. Down from 41 in 2011, the number of cops charged for breaches of the Corruption Prevention Act declined to 39. Arrests also fell from 65 to 54. It should also be noted that the number could have been lower if some of the khaki-suit men had simply filed their declaration of assets.

The fall in the number is not to be interpreted as the Anti-Corruption Branch slacking off. On the contrary, it is a matter of the dirty cops being caught one by one. After all, when one sets rat traps and roach powder, the number of pests caught will decline because of the vector-control mechanisms put in place. Conversely, 44 civilians were charged in 2012, up from 19 in 2011.

It is in my view significant that in the past year, the Corruption Perception Index, compiled by Transparency International, improved from 3.3 in 2011 to 3.8 in 2012. Although this is a drop in the bucket, in a country where 0.5 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product is the source of somersaults and 'puppalicks', this has to be celebrated. No doubt, given the fact that the public can now call 1-888-corrupt, and has a range of other avenues for reporting misconduct of the police, this is having a major impact on transparency.

FEW RED MARKS

Nevertheless, there are a few red marks and one of the big Xs is the traffic amnesty. Threatening to turn the grade into B- or B, the hitches and glitches in seeking to trawl in the delinquent traffic violators have turned into a nightmare of sorts. In its first incarnation several months ago, citizens who accepted guilt and paid their tickets were still on the system like stale liquor on a mint-sucking tipsy driver's breath. Despite the improvements, some innocent persons are still not removed. Hopefully, this will be repaired soon.

The second big X - and for that, the police definitely will have to do a resit or more likely repeat the course, with in-course testing and all - is the embarrassment at the police Transport & Repairs Division. We await more on that anon.

Nevertheless, the overall signs are good, and while this is no time to sit back on one's laurel wreaths, we must commend, support and move on. And to National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who seems willing to learn from and be guided by his technocrats, be not complacent, because as my teacher said, "Laziness will ruin your work."

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies, and a radio talk show host. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tayloronblackline@hotmail.com

  • Crime outcome 2012

✔ All major crime categories fell.

✔ Seven police divisions had double-digit reductions.

✔ Firearm seizures up by 19 per cent.

✔ Narcotics recovery up by 41 per cent.

✔ Road fatalities fell below 300 to 258.

✔ Sexual offences against children have diminished.

✔ Cops arrested for corruption fell from 65 to 54.