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Editorial: Maybe an enquiry on crime

Published:Wednesday | August 26, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We agree with Peter Bunting's admonition against sensationalising or politicising the problem of crime in Jamaica. But it wouldn't be Mr Bunting's intent, we believe, to foreclose debate on what is a crisis of security and possible solutions thereto. For there needs to be serious questions asked by Jamaicans whether they are getting best value for the money they spend on security and how that expenditure might be more efficiently utilised.

We, of course, anticipate and appreciate a challenge by the authorities to our characterisation of the state of criminality in Jamaica. After all, the official data show that all reported major crimes have declined so far this year, as has been the case in recent years. All that is, except homicides, which is the real benchmark for crime.

Up to the start of this week, there were around 775 murders in Jamaica since the start of 2015, or 20 per cent more than last year. On the current trajectory, there will be 1,200 this year, for a homicide rate of around 45 per 100,000 - a statistic that is not uncommon for this country. Jamaica, for a long time, has had a notoriously high murder rate, reaching over 60 per 100,000 towards the end of last decade when murders were upwards of 1,600.

There, indeed, have been gains since then. Homicides have fallen by a third - including last year's 16 per cent decline - with the apparent catalyst being the 2010 security forces operation in the West Kingston enclave of Tivoli Gardens that routed the private military of the gangster and community strongman, Christopher Coke. But the post-Tivoli frightened retreat of criminal gangs has not endured. They, mostly, retained their guns.

Nor does it appear that policing strategies are effective.

While we agree with Mr Bunting that security operations won't of themselves fix the range of problems, including dysfunctional family life that leads to crime, people need to be assured that they are getting best return on the country's investment in national security - that the security forces receive the best training and are being properly managed.




In this fiscal year, for instance, taxpayers will spend around $30 billion on the constabulary, or about five per cent of the national budget. That figure does not include the budget for the task force that targets organised crime and corruption. Another $12 billion is being spent on the Jamaica Defence Force, which regularly assists the constabulary in domestic policing. Overall, the Government spend on security will be $49 billion, or eight per cent of its budget. In addition, Jamaican firms and householders spend billions more on private security because of the weaknesses of the state security apparatus.

It would perhaps make sense for an honest, no-holds-barred, stripped-down debate on security management - beyond proposed internal reforms of the police force - and how the state security system might cooperate with those of private firms so that they can craft appropriate models for cooperation and find the synergies that lead to greater efficiencies.

It may not be too far to suggest a commission of enquiry into crime in Jamaica and on the overhaul of the security forces, but, more specifically, the constabulary.