A different approach to policing needed
Glenn Tucker, Contributor
The government, and the minister of national security in particular, are understandably pleased that there has been a significant reduction in the number of murders reported for 2014.
The reduction is said to be about 16 per cent. Some time ago, an exasperated National Security Minister Peter Bunting declared that divine intervention was needed to deal with our crime problem.
If the reduction was, in fact, the result of divine intervention, then I would suggest that we just be thankful and spend more time in prayer. If this was not the case, then I would ask the minister to explain what strategies were employed to obtain this reduction. I say this because, no sooner had the new year started, than we had about 25 murders in the first week. Were the successful strategies put on hold? Could the homicides of 2015 have been seriously undercounted?
The commissioner of police has been on radio and television assuring us that the force is aware of the perpetrators, and we are led to believe that they will soon be apprehended. He further suggests that the main problem is gangs. Gang-related murders have been reduced, he said, from 900 the previous year to just over 600 in 2014.
Questionable gang relations
How, may I ask, does one determine when a murder is gang-related? And if one knows that much, what would prevent a successful prosecution? The strategy to solve the crime problem seems to be the 'dismantling of gangs'. But how does one 'dismantle' a gang. This is not a building or a football club. Will hunting down gang members dismantle the gang? Has the minister spent any resources to find out why gangs formed? Because that would put more focus on the forces which pull or push some youths into a gang rather than just focusing on the youths themselves. Joining gangs is usually a flight from abusive family circumstances where basic needs are unmet, in search of a chance to gain status and material possessions.
The gang-dominated neighbourhoods in Jamaica have a disproportionate number of residents who are unemployable, unemployed or underemployed. There is lack of economic opportunity, poverty, inadequate services, struggling school systems, and they are also home to a significant portion of the immigrant population. The gang offers opportunities to acquire power by uniting youths in search of hope and the power to realise those hopes. It is their solution to abuse, fear and lack of security. What are we doing about these problems, Minister? Because removing these factors will more effectively reduce gang activity in the long run than all the guns, bullets and prisons we have. The family is the most important agent of socialisation. Family life in Jamaica is characterised by dysfunctionality. For every gang member taken out of circulation, there are six or seven more youths anxious to take their place. Yes, gangs are illegitimate opportunity structures, but they are a response to a lack of legitimate opportunities.
Central to any successful resolution of the crime problem is this matter of trust between the police and citizens. This has been at a low level for years. And recent memories of Mario Deane, Robert 'Kentucky Kid' Hill, as well as the horrifying revelations at the Tivoli Enquiry make it unnecessary to ask about public perception of the police. It is significant to note that in countries with low crime figures, the crime-fighting team is not just the police force - it is the entire population!!!
This is why trust and community policing are so important in dealing with crime. We must move beyond these wishy-washy attempts at community policing to one in which all members of the community become active allies in the effort to enhance the safety and quality of neighbourhoods. The commissioner and his team must carefully examine the characteristics of problems in neighbourhoods then apply appropriate problem-solving remedies.
The old strategies are rarely effective today. The desired goal - an enhanced sense of safety, security and well-being - are not being achieved. What changes in orientation, organisation and operations have been implemented that will allow them to benefit the communities they serve by improving the quality of the services they provide?
In jurisdictions where there is research in policing, the findings challenge prevailing police practices and beliefs here. The police must help build stronger, more self-sufficient communities where crime and disorder will not thrive. All who share a concern for the welfare of the neighbourhood should bear responsibility for safeguarding that welfare. Close collaboration among patrol officers and their supervisors is as critical to successful community policing as the partnership between the officer and community members.
It is important that the police take time to break down the barriers of distrust and apathy in order to forge meaningful partnerships. Without trust, effective policing is impossible. May I recommend the analogy of the 'spigot and the spill'. Turn off the spigot rather than spending a lifetime trying to clean up the never-ending spill.
The time has come to alter the policies and practices of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. These new policies would be rooted in the shifting characteristics of crime and violence and the changing nature of communities.