Tue | Jul 14, 2020

Fitz Jackson | Murders shifted to the back burner

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:26 AMFitz Jackson - Guest Columnist

The arrival of the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, on our shores on March 4, 2020, by a person with a travel history from the United Kingdom has caused a seismic shift of national attention. Prior to the announcement of the first case on March 10, the problem of crime and violence, and murder, in particular, was the number-one concern of Jamaicans. Today, it is virtually absent from the agenda.

Undoubtedly, the focus on the virus is justified because of its potential to take lives and to damage an economy that experienced no growth for the last quarter of 2019 before coronavirus, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN). However, make no joke, crime still represents a clear and present danger, claiming many more lives than the virus so far. The daily press conferences and announcements by the prime minister and minister of health tell us of the number of persons tested and those infected. Up to now, the death rate from COVID-19 infection stands at 3, with 47 confirmed infections up to Friday. Compare this with the daily slaughter of our citizens at the hands of gunmen, and there is no daily press conference, no update, no mobilisation of any kind, no stimulus package, no islandwide dusk-to-dawn curfew.

The first quarter of 2020, with emergency powers promulgated in seven geographical areas covering seven parishes, saw a three per cent increase in murders. The states of emergency (SOEs), which have failed to check the national murder rate, have now started to see a murder uptick even in the said areas with the “enhanced security measure”.

The commissioner of police and his new communication team have reacted by adopting a “bunker mentality”, locking out access to information in the false belief that hiding the problem will make it disappear. The regular pattern of sharing information with members of the National Security Council has ceased as the commissioner says, “I have to relook at the arrangements around these reports.” He went on, “Once the protocols, etc, have been ironed out, you’ll be communicated with.” That was his statement of March 26, 2020, and not a peep since.

Instead of new protocols, the commissioner has opted to censor vital information necessary for Jamaicans to manage in an increasingly dangerous public space in our country. We must all rely on the grapevine. It has also impaired the Parliamentary Opposition‘s ability to do proper analysis and make comments in the public space. This is clearly unacceptable and should be rectified immediately.

The January to March quarter performance, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force Periodic Crime Statistical Review, shows that without serious policy adjustment, we are heading for a significant increase in murders for 2020. Shootings, though lower than 2019, are beginning to increase even in unlikely places such as rural communities.

JCF CRIME STATISTICS REVIEW – JANUARY 1 TO MARCH 28, 2020

SOURCE: Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics and Information Management Unit.

Murders at the end of March stood at just over 350 and shootings, over 310. Like many, I am quite mindful that each shooting is a near murder, with the consequential lifetime distress for the victim and their families. This increase in murder has taken place despite Government’s claims of providing the JCF with the most money ever and with the continuous extension of the SOEs and ZOSOs, to which the Opposition has shown its support. However, with the trends moving ominously towards another record-setting year, there is not a whisper from either the prime minister or the minister of national security about the situation.

Murder

2019 2020 +/- % Shooting

2019 2020 +/- %

Kingston Central 9 13 4 44.4% 7 12 5 71.4%

Kingston Eastern 13 14 1 7.7% 15 10 -5 -33.3%

Kingston Western 15 19 4 26.7% 15 25 10 66.7%

St Andrew Central 25 24 -1 -4.0% 28 20 -8 -28.6%

St Andrew North 12 28 16 133.3% 11 29 18 163.6%

St Andrew South 35 48 13 37.1% 42 41 -1 -2.4%

St Catherine North 21 28 7 33.3% 23 26 3 13%

St Catherine South 33 31 -2 -6.1% 43 29 -14 -32.6%

St James 40 22 -18 -45.0% 37 29 -8 -21.6%

Trelawny 8 8 0 0.0% 2 5 3 150%

Westmoreland 35 20 -15 -42.9% 29 23 -6 -20.7%

Hanover 8 7 -1 -12.5% 9 5 -4 -44.4%

St Mary 6 7 1 16.7% 4 3 -1 -25%

St Ann 12 17 5 41.7% 6 15 9 150%

Portland 6 1 -5 -83.3% 3 2 -1 -33.3%

Manchester 10 11 1 10.0% 12 7 -5 -41.7%

Clarendon 31 32 1 3.2% 25 16 -9 -36%

St Elizabeth 7 10 3 42.9% 4 9 5 125%

St Thomas 9 4 -5 -55.6% 12 4 -8 -66.7%

Grand Total 335 344 9 2.7% 327 310 -17 -5.2%

Examination of the numbers shows that of the 19 police divisions in Jamaica, 12 are experiencing increases in murder, including four of the seven SOE/ZOSO areas. This cannot be good when the Government has been using the biggest weapon in its artillery – SOEs – to effect a reduction in murders and shootings for over two years.

St Andrew South, with an SOE in place, leads the country in murders with 48, up 37 per cent over 2019. Coincidentally, this police division has the constituencies of both the prime minister and the minister of finance.

There are other divisions, St Andrew North, up 133 per cent; Kingston Central, up 44 per cent; St Elizabeth, up 42 per cent; St Ann, up 41.7 per cent; and St Catherine North, up 33 per cent, which are in need of special attention as there must be factors on the ground driving murders.

St Ann and St Elizabeth, which do not now have SOEs, should be on the radar for intervention before one day, the prime minister announces another of the ineffective SOEs.

Last October 17, a number of social partners, including Government, Opposition, the private sector, and civil society met at the Jamaica Conference Centre to let ideas flow for a comprehensive attack on crime. The outcome of this effort is outstanding, awaiting response from the prime minister for the next step to be taken. The Budget Debate has closed, with the prime minister’s contribution only pointing to continued reliance on a strategy of muscle instead of technology, social intervention, and economic empowerment.

The Opposition has consistently warned against the over-reliance on and the use of SOEs that would undermine their ability to be rightfully used in real emergencies as the constitution envisaged. There are reports of gunmen with 9mm literally approaching and shooting up police and military parties with high- powered rifles. The senseless overuse of SOEs has now undermined our country’s security ability to properly and effectively control movements of persons in a real emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic we now face.

For Jamaica’s sake, I hope Prime Minister Holness’ failure to heed advice in the overuse of the SOE does not carry over into how the spread of the coronavirus is managed. Like crime, and the economy, modesty and the application of sound advice is paramount. Like all national crises, the whole of the country is required, not just the government of the day.

The prime minister and his team have been at this crime-fighting attempt for four years now after the outlandish unfulfilled promise of 2016 to make people be able to sleep with windows and doors open. The callousness of the prime minister on crime was once again demonstrated recently in Parliament when he claimed his ‘window and door open’ comment was just a dream he had for Jamaica. Instead of progress, the situation continues to deteriorate as murders climb yearly and the response becomes more and more feeble and unimaginative. It is not the coronavirus or crime; the fight MUST be against both. They are deadly, stifle economic development, and threaten to set us back after much sacrifice by the Jamaican people to get to this economic juncture.

After all the promises, the People’s National Party left murders at just over 1,000, and we are fast heading to the midpoint between 1,000 and 2,000 once again. I hope the prime minister realises where the buck stops as we head to decision 2021.

- Fitz Jackson is Shadow Minister of National Security. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com