Tue | Mar 21, 2023

A year less deadly

Published:Wednesday | December 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Reverend Gary Harriott
Derrick Smith
Senator K.D. Knight

Cautious Optimism Greets Drop in Murder Rate

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

Amid the guarded excitement that the number of persons killed in Jamaica this year will be the lowest over the last decade, one church group has issued a sobering reminder that as a nation, "we have lost respect for the sanctity of life".

While "celebrating" the sharp fall-off in murders this year, the Reverend Gary Harriott, general secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), underscored that the society has now reached the point where the taking of a life for the simplest reason is no longer a big deal for some people.

"We have so trivialised life that people will take money, or money's value, to end the life of somebody they have no connection with or [about whom they] know nothing," he said in reference to the increasing number of contract killings.

Up to yesterday afternoon, 999 persons were reported killed across the nation's 19 police divisions this year, one shy of reaching the 1,000 mark for the 10th consecutive year.

The final figure should, however, fall well below the 1,200 murders recorded last year and the 1,097 reported in 2012.

It would also mean a near-40 per cent drop since murders peaked at 1,682 in 2009, one of the three darkest years in the nation's history. The others are 2008, when 1,618 murders were recorded; and 2010, when 1,428 persons were reported killed.

Jamaica recorded 152 murders in 1970 and the figure rose steadily each year until the bloody general election of 1980 sent the number spiralling to a record 889 reported murders in a calendar year.

The number fell to 490 the following year and remained in the 400s until 1990, when it started to inch up again, climbing to 629 by 1992, and 780 by 1995.

The steady climb in murders, Harriott argued, is also connected to some of the "social challenges of poverty", a breakdown in the basic family structure, and a lack of focus among the youth.

"So youngsters get drawn into the gang lifestyle because they see no other way," he said.

Harriott said the family structure, a key socialisation agent in the society, has broken down significantly, and as a result, parents are no longer responsible for their children.

The country's most powerful private-sector lobby and two former national security ministers have welcomed this year's 18 per cent reduction in murders.

Noting that security costs account for between one and three per cent of the operating costs for most businesses, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President William Mahfood said a falling crime rate is good news for businesses and the consumer.

"The more that we can build on our environment to do business, the more jobs we can create, the more investments we can get, and the less criminal activities we would have. So one feeds the other," Mahfood said.

For Senator K.D. Knight, the self-styled 'Sheriff' who served as national security minister between 1989 and 2001, the reduction is something to celebrate, but he warned against complacency.

"This thing fluctuates. If we don't keep on top of it, next year, we could see an increase," Knight cautioned.

He said raising the visibility of the police on the streets and reviving the community-policing initiative could help to consolidate the gains.

Derrick Smith, who served a short stint as national security minister from late 2007 to early 2008, believes Jamaicans should hold off on the celebrations for the falling murder rate.

"History is replete with celebrations, and then the year after, we have another problem. So I would not start celebrating," Smith told The Gleaner.

While he had high praises for former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington and his successor, Dr Carl Williams, along with the men and women of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Smith said the low clear-up rate for murders and other serious crimes remains an issue that has to be urgently addressed to help deter criminals.