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EDITORIAL - In the absence of resilience

Published:Wednesday | June 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It may have expired by now, but over the past several days, the police in the downtown/western Kingston area of the Jamaican capital have been engaged in an operation they call Resilience 3. They have had help from the Jamaica Defence Force.

The effort, according to Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor, the head of the Kingston West Police Division, is aimed at "intensifying the pressure on criminals operating in downtown, especially in the market district". In others words, the security authorities felt that there was need for something dramatic to confront, and hopefully contain, the epidemic of extortion and violent criminality that has resurged in the western section of the city since the time, four years ago, in the aftermath of the Tivoli Gardens operation, when people felt that Jamaica, finally, was coming to grips with the problem.

The incursion into Tivoli Gardens to arrest, for extradition, the drug lord/gangster, Christopher Coke, proved to be a violent affair. More than 70 civilians were killed, although it is claimed that many of them did not die in gunfights and might have been victims of extrajudicial killings.

Shift in crime dynamics

What is clear is that the dislodgement of Coke, the country's top crime boss, and the psychological impact of degrading his Tivoli Gardens redoubt, for a time, shifted the dynamic of crime in Jamaica. Although - at a 45 per 100,000 population - our murder rate remained extraordinarily high review, the actual number of murders declined by a third.

It is true, too, that during Coke's iron-grip rein, there were, despite its reputation as a haven for hard men of violence, few murders in west Kingston. And there was a kind of 'order' to the extortion business downtown. With his departure, the law-enforcement authorities seemed to have regained control of a previously ungoverned part of the city. The extortionists disappeared.

During those early, heady days, there was a fair bit of chest-beating by the authorities, including the police, and the rest of the society was optimistic. We had hoped that west Kingston/downtown's small geographical areas, would be sustainable models of crime management and a template for the rest of Jamaica's high crime communities. It hasn't held.

Four per cent increase in murders

Last year, the number of murders in Jamaica increased by four per cent, to more than 1,200. But more significant is what is happening in west Kingston. There is a factional fight among gangsters for turf. In 2014, up to the third week of May, there were already 36 murders in the division - an increase of 36 per cent. The extortionists are back in force downtown, without the old central command and control.

In a sense, Resilience 3 is an admittance by the authorities that they have lost the plot on post-Coke downtown/west Kingston. They can no longer deny the presence of the extortionists. And that has implications for crime in the wider Jamaica, to which the environment upon which containment and the possibility transformation, initially achieved in Tivoli/west Kingston, was not extended.

For example, an absence of consensus, and in the case of the current security minister, active opposition, contributed to the collapse of a state of emergency that helped to create that environment. Since then, there have been fine words and pretty documents. Hard achievements are few.

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