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Lose the smile Bunting - Critics say 2012 crime numbers scary despite decline

Published:Sunday | January 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Even as Minister of National Security Peter Bunting pats himself on the back for the reduced crime figures in 2012, some stakeholders are not ready to dish out accolades.

For Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), Bunting is engaging in cherry-picking.

According to Gomes, Bunting's tendency to use crime data without analysis is a wrong approach.

"We have this touting of instant data reductions and are cherry-picking in order to call it a success," argued Gomes.

"In fact we can also cherry-pick the data and call it failure as we have an 80 per cent increase in larceny and a decrease in the cleared up rate for murders from 47 per cent to 40 per cent."

According to Gomes, the four per cent reduction in murder in 2012 is unacceptable.

"At that rate, we would be in 2070 before we get to the minister's ambitious rate of 12 murders per 100,000 and, again, I am cherry-picking data," she said.

The human rights advocate charged that Bunting is operating in a vacuum.

"One does not get a picture of an overall vision and strategy that encompasses the multiple stakeholders that is built on the rights and citizens of this country and an understanding of the broader need for strategies that will have to be employed to reduce crime."

Cloud of denial

For his part, opposition spokesman on national security, Delroy Chuck, warned that if Bunting fails to emerge from under a "cloud of denial" Jamaica could be in for trouble this year.

Chuck charged that Bunting's claims are grossly misplaced as the crime figures have been trending down since March 2010.

"What happened in 2012, shows a continuing decline in the murder and criminal statistics from 2010, the trend has continued. The decline in 2012 was not as significant as hoped or expected," said Chuck.

The opposition spokesman said if there is any commendation, this should go to the police.

Chuck characterised as flawed, Bunting's comparison period under the Jamaica Labour Party government with 2012.

He argued that Bunting was using a political period of 2008 to 2011 to average out the number of murders.

"It would be interesting to find out what was the average of the preceding four-year period because I am sure it was about the same."

Chuck warned that the deteriorating economic conditions could put paid to achievements made by the police over the past three years.

"In 2013, unless we put in place the anti-gang legislation, we will not be able to control the gang violence, although there was a reduction, as the gangs and guns still exist in communities.

In the meantime, Bunting is also facing criticisms over his perceived failure to adequately acknowledge efforts of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the arm of his ministry probing alleged police excess.

While Bunting urged members of the security forces to take a bow, for a job well done, in 2012, his critics say he has been deafeningly silent on the role of INDECOM.

In March 2012, Jamaicans staggered in anguish after news emerged that 16-year-old high school student Vanessa Kirkland was killed in a police shooting.

One week later, another controversial police killing made the headlines.

Forty-year-old office attendant Dianne Gordon was killed during another alleged police shootout.

Even senior cops wept three months later when news emerged that 21-year-old Mountain View resident Kavorn Shue was killed by the bullets of policemen during another questionable operation.

Gomes is still seething over these and other incidents.

"The minister stood up in Parliament and made the strongest statement that we have ever heard from a minister, but nothing has been done since then and, in fact, 217 Jamaicans had been killed by police up to December 29th and more since then," charged Gomes.

"That rate puts it above the rate in the 1980s and 1990s," she said.

Police shootings were down seven per cent last year when compared to 2011.

Gomes said national security should be tackled under three broad headings this year.

She said cherry-picking from the data must be discontinued in order to get a true picture of the situation.

Declaring that the second heading is accountability, Gomes complained that in 2012, Bunting decided, without consultation, to dissolve the oversight committee monitoring the implementation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) reform.

She said, as a part of a broader committee, the JFJ sought an explanation for this move from Bunting.

"We never got an answer; we had to come together with other members of the committee and ask for a meeting with the Minister in order to be told that he thinks it is five years later, so it needed to be disbanded."

Added Gomes: "He said the implementation of reform will continue under the JCF without any adequate analysis as to where the reform process has reached and what needs to be done and the timeline to doing it."

Within that approach to oversight issues, we have had a national strategy for crime drawn up that really places very little emphasis on the broader issues.

Declaring that crime is not policing alone, Gomes pointed to the issues of the crime control and the attendant community processes of reducing the impetus to crime, not just clearance after the commission of crime.

"This seems to have fallen by the wayside, because I have seen very little under the Community Renewal Programme and almost none under the Citizens Security and Justice Programme (CSJP). So that broader aspect of crime control, we're not sure what is happening at all."

But in a message to the nation last week Bunting had declared that the CSJP has been expanded to more than 50 communities.

"A new element of the CSJP is a six-month on-the-job internship with the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Engineering Unit for almost 500 participants.

"After receiving HEART training, the youth are able to put these skills into practice at various JDF project sites. In addition to honing their construction skills, they also receive a 'work readiness' orientation by both precept in weekly lectures and more importantly by the example of the soldiers with whom they are working," said Bunting.