EDITORIAL - Inefficiency in insecurity
Neither Peter Bunting, the national security minister, nor Kenroy Wedderburn, the head of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), gave the number of legally held guns in Jamaica. But we know it's a lot. According to some estimates, it is around eight guns for every 100 Jamaicans, placing us in the top 80 or so countries for gun ownership.
There are a lot of illegal ones, too. Each year, the police recover about 700 guns. Illegal firearms are used in perhaps 90 per cent of the more than 1,200 murders a year committed in Jamaica.
This is relevant at this time with last week's formal opening of the new headquarters of the FLA in Kingston, at which Mr Bunting celebrated the spaciousness of the new facilities and the improved safety of the environment for the authority's work. They talked, too, about the improved efficiency of the FLA in the face of increased demand for firearm licences.
"A couple of years ago," Dr Wedderburn said, "we were processing a little over 200 (applications) per month. Now, we are processing, on average, 550 per month." One time, it used to take up to three years to complete all the checks prior to issuing a firearm permit. It is now far less than that.
We applaud the fact that any agency of government has so dramatically improved its efficiency. We wish that the FLA's formula, including its improved customer-service delivery, would be replicated in the public sector.
What this newspaper finds difficult to celebrate, though, is what we perceive to be greater reason for demand for the FLA services. And it is not primarily the fact, as Dr Wedderburn suggests, of the agency's improved efficiency.
The demand for guns, we feel, is an index of sense of insecurity among law-abiding Jamaicans. They have little faith in the police to keep them safe, or to catch and prosecute criminals.
Despite the one-third reduction in murders compared to five years ago, Jamaica's homicide rate of more than 40 per 100,000 population is among the highest in the world. And there is little confidence that the decline will be sustained.
More important is the inefficiency of law-enforcement agencies in solving crime. For instance, the police now clear up about 40 per cent of murders, in that they identify a suspect, but not necessarily achieve a conviction. Indeed, the clear-up rate has hovered around the same place for decades.
There is, therefore, the sense that criminals can act with impunity, that most of the few who are caught never face justice, and that any reduction is crime is largely the result of inadvertence rather than design. Stresses on the trust between citizens and the police, including too many real cases of abuse of power by the latter, worsen that feeling of insecurity among Jamaicans and weaken support for the assumption that in a modern, organised, liberal democracy, the State should have a monopoly on violence. While adhering to the semblance of Jamaica's state structure, of which the FLA is part, Jamaicans do not trust their agencies to protect them. Or, they are inclined to supplement such efforts.
Reversing that view is among Mr Bunting's job functions. The best way is by having a modern, accountable police force that achieves results. It has to start catching the criminals and building airtight cases..
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