Editorial | Revive Grants Pen initiative
A recent spate of killings, including a triple murder on Sunday in the St Andrew community of Grants Pen, suggests that the area is heading back to the worst of its times – the 1980s up to the early 2000s.
Those days, shootings and killings, some of it by politically aligned thugs, were rampant. But ‘independent’ badmen and so-called dons also had their impact.
Then, for many years, Grants Pen became largely peaceful. Murders declined significantly. People did not live in constant fear.
Two years ago, when Grants Pen was still relatively stable, although rents in the community were apparent, this newspaper called for a revisiting of the Grants Pen model, and its adjustment and reapplication in the context of today’s circumstance. Our call, in essence, was for a return to the community-police engagement in Grants Pen, of the kind instituted there in the 2000s, but scaled up and modified for communities across the island.
In Sunday’s incident, the murdered men were victims of drive-by shooting at a domestic construction site in the community. In the early hours of the previous day, a brother of the dancehall deejay called Jashii was shot dead at a shop owned by their father. Weeks before that, Jashii himself escaped a shooting ambush while leaving an event miles away from Grants Pen.
Prior to the attack on Jashii, a man was shot dead in Grants Pen, allegedly after an altercation with Jashii’s mother. She insisted the altercation never happened.
In the aftermath of that incident, Jashii was questioned by the police. Jashii has, up to now, been accused of nothing.
There are fears in Grants Pen of a cycle of reprisals, although no one ostensibly knows by whom it will be orchestrated.
Jashii is not the only person affected by events, good or bad, in Grants Pen. There have been other cases of murder and shootings in the community over the last two years, where his personage appears not to have been relevant in any way.
But it serves no one that the people engaged in the violence continue to pull the community apart and blight the prospects of everyone. Maybe Jashii – who, through his spokespersons, made clear early in the day that he was not involved in any of the events in Grants Pen – is willing to lend his influential voice to a call for peace. He should be asked.
More importantly, though, the authorities should return to what was known to work reasonably well in Grants Pen and replicate it elsewhere.
At the start of the millennium, an American group, Police Executive Research Forum, which conducted a strategic analysis of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, recommended Grants Pen as the model/pilot for a new community-based policing strategy. The US government, through its Agency for International Development, financed the development of the project and the training of the police officers who were to be assigned to it. The American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica, in concert with the domestic private sector, paid for a model police station in the community and an adjacent community clinic. Commercial facilities, including bill payment services, an Internet cafe and a banking machine, were at the police station.
As part of trust-building efforts, a citizens’ group interfaced with the police on community development and security issues. But, very critically, the police were to be very visible in the community, operating mostly on foot and bicycle. They were required to engage with the community, getting to know its members, partly to “cultivate sources of information on criminal activity through regular contact with community residents”.
At the start, 70 police officers were stationed in Grants Pen: one to 113 residents, compared to the national average of one to 330.
The Grants Pen project worked well in parts, exemplified by the relatively long periods when the area was not in the national consciousness as a crime-infested community.
However, senior cops bristled at its insistence on record-keeping and accountability. They felt, too, that its private-sector backers had too much authority and were poking their noses into the police’s work. Neither were the staffing levels maintained at Grants Pen.
The police are still short of staff to fully replicate the Grants Pen project. But it can be rejigged and reproduced in that community, as well as a dozen or so high-crime areas that demand special attention. The rewards are likely to be worth the investment.