Fri | Oct 15, 2021

Editorial | Crime survey places spotlight on JCF

Published:Monday | March 15, 2021 | 12:06 AM

There has largely been public silence from the Holness administration over last month’s complaint by Lloyd Distant of the Government’s missed targets for recruiting new police officers, as part of a broader package of crime-reform measures. A new report on how Jamaicans are impacted by crime and their perception of the country’s law-enforcement and justice institutions, not only highlights the relevance of this matter, but also the need for a recalibrated conversation on how the constabulary should go about hiring additional cops.

It is not good engineering to build superstructures on corroded foundations. In which case, the police chief, Major General Antony Anderson, should have a full, frank and transparent engagement with Jamaicans about the state of the constabulary, including details of the rot, and how he intends to re-engineer a new base. The point is, as the 2019 Jamaica National Crime Victimisation Survey reconfirms, despite the attempts do so, the problems of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and crime in the country, are resistant to spin.

The survey, conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), with support from the United Nations, covers the period between August 2018 and September 2019, when the utilisation of states of public emergency (SOEs), as the primary crime-fighting tool, was at its peak, having success in reducing homicides and enjoying strong support for their effectiveness – 77.7 per cent, according to the survey. Yet, Jamaicans remained leery, or worse, of the JCF, and harboured big fears of crime.

FOCUS ON SURVEY FINDING

There has been some focus on the survey’s finding, which among the early dribbles from the report, is that 90 per cent of Jamaicans feel safe, and that 91 per cent felt no qualms walking in their communities. There are other areas where people also felt a high degree of safety, such as in their churches and at their workplaces. However, these data require further analysis for they may also mask significant anxieties.

For instance, while more than nine of 10 Jamaicans are ready to walk in their communities at daytime, only around seven in 10 (69.6 per cent) said they would feel safe doing so at night. Put another way, 30 per cent are frightened to walk about their neighbourhood once it passes dusk. Three years earlier, at the time of the previous survey, in 2016, 95.5 Jamaicans felt safe in their communities in the day, and 81 per cent claimed to have no qualms doing so at night. So, the number who feared going about their communities at night increased by over 11 percentage points.

Overall, 76.5 per cent of Jamaicans felt that crime increased during the period surveyed, of which 5.1 per cent of households and 10.8 of the population 16 and over (over 227,000) reported that they were actually victims of crime. At the household level, the main crime was burglaries (52.2 per cent), followed by vehicular theft/parts stolen off vehicles (29 per cent), and objects stolen from vehicles (17.4 per cent). Half of the crime (50.5 per cent) against individuals were larcenies. In 42.7 per cent of the cases, victims faced threats or extortion. In nearly a quarter (23.3 per cent) of the cases, the issue was assault or injury, and 15 per cent of the crimes were robberies with violence.

Significantly, in only two categories of crimes, robberies (50.01 per cent) and motor vehicle theft (54.5 per cent), did the victims’ reports to the police top 50 per cent. About a third of the time they said they did not bother to file complaints because the loss was not significant enough for the report to matter. The next most prevalent reasons for not going to the police was the feeling that cops would do nothing, or the victims believed that they could handle the issue on their own. Of those who said they reported incidents, the majority (58 per cent of households and 57 per cent of individuals) said they were dissatisfied with how the cops handled the cases.

VIEW THAT JCF IS CORRUPT

Perception of incompetence apart, another likely reason for this attitude is the view among nearly two-thirds (65.2 per cent) of Jamaicans, the worst for law enforcement/ judicial institutions, that the JCF is corrupt.

Jamaica has far fewer police per capita than most of its Caribbean neighbours that have significantly less population. In the circumstances, this newspaper has campaigned for, and backed the Government’s initiative to hire 4,000 new police personnel by 2022, which will lift the JCF’s establishment by 50 per cent. One thousand of the new police should have been recruited by the end of this month. But Mr Distant – who chairs a committee that monitors the implementation of an agreement on reforms that the Government signed last August with the political Opposition and civil society – complained that the recruitment is woefully behind.

We want the recruitment to proceed apace. A relevant question, though, is what kind of constabulary will the new members enter, if a critical mass of bad apples remain in the barrel.

Serious researchers of Jamaica’s crime and security problems have argued that up to 20 per cent of the existing police force should go en masse to ensure a cleansing of the constabulary. There is an argument that the Jamaica Defence Force, whose numbers have increased significantly in recent years could, during a year or two of transition, help fill any gap. It would be useful to hear Major General Anderson’s view on this issue and other matters raised by the survey report.