Peter Phillips | More thoughtful action in the fight against crime over the next 90 days
The safety and security of the citizenry is the primary responsibility of elected governments, and the Opposition is committed to the fullest cooperation with the administration to discharge this responsibility. This means, above all, keeping us informed as to the present levels of crime and offering the most effective course of action based on the information available.
The Jamaican people cannot feel safe with the current high levels of violent crimes islandwide. These are now at a record high. Last week, citing a 72 per cent increase in murders in St James, and the existence of a network of organised criminal gangs across the western section of the country, the Government indicated that it required emergency powers to deal with this situation.
The parliamentary Opposition did not block this extension for the obvious reason that the Government, which has access to the most up-to-date intelligence data on the scope and extent of any imminent threat to the safety and security of the Jamaican people, must be given some leeway in arriving at the judgement as to whether or not an emergency exists. However, as we have said many times, an emergency is created by totally unanticipated conditions, such as a natural disaster, and is of limited duration.
The essential point to be grasped here is that a state of emergency and the suspension of constitutional rights that it entails was never intended by the framers of our Constitution to be a long-term crime-fighting measure. Frankly, the People’s National Party (PNP) will not legitimise or countenance the normalisation of martial law and the suspension of the constitutional rights of citizens.
After all, martial law is the suspension of civil authority and the imposition of military authority. This means that the military is in ‘control’ of the area – starting with the military acting as the police, then sometimes it moves to them acting as the courts, and also as the legislature. This is contradictory to the democratic rights for which our forefathers and mothers fought.
2018 STATE OF EMERGENCY IN ST JAMES
What has been achieved after one year of a state of public emergency in St James? The saturation of the communities with the security forces presence contributed to a welcomed decrease in the number of murders. However, it is a matter of concern that fewer guns and fewer bullets were seized than in the previous year (2017). Of the more than 10,000 people detained for periods up to nine months, the vast majority were released without charge.
There were few, if any, of the main violence producers or kingpins of organised crime that were locked up and brought to justice. Intelligence was not converted to evidence and thus few criminals were brought before the courts and put away. We can, therefore, conclude that the absence of intelligence gathering, investigation, and case preparation during the year that the state of emergency was in effect, no real progress was made in reducing the threat posed by the producers and kingpins of organised crime. We are still left with a choice between perpetual martial law or long-term citizen insecurity. Both of these options are unacceptable.
CLEAR DEMANDS WITHIN THE 90 DAYS
It is for this reason that I made it clear in Parliament that the Opposition would not be party to an open-ended approval of states of emergency in perpetuity. In the course of the next 90 days, we expect that the Government will be well advanced in the implementation of a plan to create a safer environment islandwide and not rely on a state of perpetual emergency.
1. We specifically recommend the declaration of more zones of special operations (ZOSO) in crime hotspots in the most crime-affected areas.
Many people incorrectly think that a ZOSO and a state of emergency (SOE) are the same thing. The ZOSO enables the same number of security forces on the ground as does the SOE, but the ZOSO provides citizens with speedier access to a judicial tribunal to justify detentions. Of equal importance is the fact that ZOSO mandates social intervention in high-crime communities.
The application of ZOSO to the entire parish of St James when the SOE expired on January 31, 2019 would have created more stable and secure communities by combining strong security presence on the ground with the protection of human rights.
2. The second call of the Opposition is for a review of the ZOSO legislation within 90 days.
The ZOSO legislation has been in place for 18 months. If the ZOSO law needs improvement for increased effectiveness, let’s review it in Parliament and make the necessary amendments.
3. We also insist that the Review of the Anti-Gang legislation currently under way in Parliament be speedily concluded and the amendments taken through the House within 90 days.
4. The PNP had agreed at the Vale Royal discussions in January to meet with the Government to discuss new legislation, which would support enhanced security measures. So far, however, the Government has only convened one meeting. These consultations need to be immediately reconvened.
5. For the fact that most organised crime is today transnational crime, taking place within and between countries, immediate steps should be taken to strengthen the international cooperation between regional and hemispheric governments.
6. The broad public needs to be involved in the understanding of the scope of the internal police reforms and other critical initiatives. For this reason, we are calling for the immediate convening of the long-awaited National Crime Summit, which the Government has agreed to but has not convened.
7. We are insisting that the DNA database be set up on the basis of Emergency Procurement.
There is no more urgent need in the country at this time than citizen security, which can only be assured by a united national effort. It is the responsibility of the Government to provide the resources for effective policing through international cooperation, adequate budgets, effective management of the security forces, and the active involvement of citizens along with our crime-fighting institutions.
Finally, we will only achieve a sustained reduction in violent crime and build a more socially cohesive Jamaica through sustained and equitable economic growth. This, in turn, can only be achieved by the transformation of the education and training system and the reconstruction of the rural economy to expand ownership and opportunity at the base of the society.
We stand ready to do our part.
- Dr Peter D. Phillips is the leader of the Opposition and president of the People’s National Party. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.