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EDITORIAL - Much activity by JCF, little progress

Published:Monday | January 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

One of the curious happenings in last week's announcement by the police of the crime statistics for 2009 was the seeming priming of the event with an earlier press conference to give data on police operations during the year, as though the constabulary first needed to convince us of just how hard they had worked on behalf of Jamaicans.

Indeed, Glenmore Hinds, the acting deputy commissioner in charge of operations, unveiled a raft of numbers showing that the police had gone on more raids, conducted more searches, mounted more roadblocks and detained more people than the previous year and, perhaps, since the police started keeping records. The police were, in fact, on the basis of time and motion, quite active.

What, however, is not apparent from the statistics that were later revealed is whether the police were working smarter or were any more efficient than in previous years. The data - one piece in particular - do not suggest that.

Major crimes up 18 per cent

Frighteningly for Jamaicans, major crimes, under-reported as we believe they are, jumped approximately 18 per cent. Critically, homicides, at 1,680, were up four per cent, to surpass the previous record of 2005 when there were 1,674 reported murders. House break-ins rocketed by 54 per cent. At the same time, police homicides, having declined by nearly 18 per cent in 2008, jumped last year by nearly eight per cent to 241.

But perhaps the most critical data of police (under)performance is the cleared-up rate of major crimes, of which murder is the most important and offers the best measure of the situation.Bear in mind that when the Jamaican police speak of clearing up a crime, they do not necessarily mean that a suspect has been arrested, charged, taken to court and, much less, convicted.Usually, it refers to identifying a suspect for the crime.

Gang violence

Even on this front, the outcomes have deteriorated over the past three years. Of last year's murders, the police say that 52 per cent were gang-related, which we interpret to mean the result of gang-on-gang or intra-gang violence.The police know most of the gangs operating in Jamaica and, in some cases, may even identify the members who, on average, account for half the annual homicides.

Last year though, the Jamaica Constabulary Force cleared up a mere 29 per cent, a drop of three percentage points from 2008 and a slippage of five points in three years. With regard to the gang-related murders, 14 per cent were cleared up last year, down from 18 per cent in 2008 and approximately 20 per cent in 2007. But it is not only the ratios that have worsened.The actual numbers for the clear-up of gang-related homicides have dropped: 122 in 2009; 134 in 2008; and 158 in 2007.

These figures may even be worse than they appear, given that of all the homicides reported in 2009, the police could not categorise the cause for 105 or around six per cent, a proportion that has been relatively steady in recent years.

There must be a lesson somewhere in these figures. One is that criminals behave with impunity because they know they can get away with their actions. Another is that even as the constabulary becomes more active, it has, at the same time, to be more cerebral if it is to thwart the criminals.

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