Editorial | Establish commission of inquiry into crime
The security forces seem to be still holding things together in western Jamaica, where a state of public emergency has been in place in the parishes of St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland for the last two months. But elsewhere in Jamaica, they appear, again, to have lost their grip on crime, especially murders.
With more than 650 reported for the year so far, homicides are approximately the same for the corresponding period in 2018. Worryingly, though, the approximately 100 homicides, thus far, in June, represent a 54 per cent increase on the number for the same month last year. This trajectory, if not urgently cauterised and reversed, will mean that killings will this year surpass the 1,287 recorded in 2018, when there was a 22 per cent decline.
Last year’s fewer homicides were attributed to the effect of states of emergency – particularly in St James, where one was in force for a year – as well as the parish of St Catherine and sections of the capital. Indeed, St James’ 70 per cent tumble in homicides was equivalent to 84 per cent of the reduction nationally.
While the latest state of emergency in western Jamaica seems to be having a moderating effect in that part of the island, its impact elsewhere, unlike last year’s, appears negligible. Rather, the concentration of security forces in the west, with enhanced powers of search and detention, may be having a ballooning effect elsewhere, especially in the parishes of St Catherine and Clarendon, where violent criminality has been on the rise.
The potential short-term efficacy of a state of emergency as a tool of crime suppression is understood. This newspaper, however, is clear that it can’t be the enduring strategy for crime deterrence in a liberal democracy where the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals are cherished. In the rare and extreme circumstance when a state of emergency is employed, it should be precise and clinical rather than so prolonged that it loses its constitutional intent and morphs into the norm. People detained under emergency powers should, as quickly as possible, be afforded due process guaranteed by the Constitution.
Ultimately, effective and sustainable crime prevention rests on a range of interlocking principles, starting with a social environment that doesn’t, by default, induce or easily tolerate criminality. It also demands a professional and skilled constabulary that has the public’s trust and is good at crime detection, supported by an efficient judicial system.
There are signs of improvement in the latter, which flickers hope. We can’t declare the same of the police, the declarations about planned reform, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness’, notwithstanding The police chief, Major General Antony Anderson, hasn’t thought it fit to share his vision for the force, or his specific ideas for change, with the public. Nor is the public aware of how the Government intends to knit its blurry crime-fighting initiatives into a cohesive and credible whole.
Moreover, we do not discern in policymakers the imagination to craft an effective anti-crime programme. For the political Opposition, whichever party occupies those benches, Jamaica’s crisis of crime is often opportunistically used to embarrass the Government.
In the circumstance, and taking into account the need for national consensus to attack this problem, Prime Minister Holness should establish a commission of inquiry into crime, including of participation by Jamaica’s international partners, with a mandate to recommend solutions to the problems, including a road map for transforming the constabulary.