Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington has set himself and the police force the bold target of reducing the country's murder rate to 12 per 100,000 of the populace by the year 2017. That would be a world-leading decline of almost 400 per cent in five years. I will not bet against the commissioner hitting his target (no pun intended) but having done so, will he be able to hold the gain? I doubt it.
The reason for my pessimism is simple. The war against poverty and the brand of crime that exists in Jamaica will be won with jobs and not bullets. In other words, crime and violence in Jamaica, beyond what would be considered normal in orderly and civilised societies, has its root in the peculiar social construct that's the garrison. All of the usual causative factors of high homicide rate - low educational attainment, poor parenting, endemic poverty, prevalence of guns, drug use, indifferent policing - get magnified in these man-made zones of exclusion. To stop the flow of blood one must attack the problem at the root.
The police recognise this probably more than any other group. Readers who have found it easy to believe that the police are bloodthirsty beasts will find the following little-publicised fact incredulous. For 2011 the United Way of Jamaica recorded pledges of $106,519,502, earmarked to support various charitable projects around the country. Of this amount, workplace donations (that is, giving by employees through payroll deductions constituted 11 per cent or $11,769,796 of the total. The Jamaica Constabulary Force, led by DCP Jevene Bent, continues to lead the donations in this category. There goes the myth that the police have no heart.
What's the point? The police are caught up in an undeclared war of monumental proportions and conflicted dynamics. They must find a way to stop killing those whom they are sworn to protect. But so too must the police and the rest of society find a way to prevent so many of our citizens from dying at the hands of criminals. Ultimately, the answer to the problem is in finding a less lethal way to dismantle political garrisons than was the case in Tivoli. My prescription is: transform the zones of exclusion to zones of investment and opportunity.
This may sound ridiculous to those who have become accustomed to seeing garrison communities and the people living there as societal aberrations to be eliminated, so let me quote from a 2001 article by Rebecca Threadway entitled, Inner-City Revitalisation through Entrepreneurship Education and Entrepreneurial Renaissance. "Long ignored, our nation's inner cities are a source of untapped opportunity, a means of growth and revitalisation. The inner city holds far more than the dismal pathology that is so publicly portrayed. Entrepreneurship is an optimal form of economic development within the inner city. By stimulating the development of businesses in these areas, jobs are created and capital generated."
For those who are not easily convinced there is more. Writing in the June 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review under the headline: Segmenting the base of the pyramid, V Kasturi Rangan, Michael Chu and Djordjija Petkoski had this to say: "Decent profits can be made at the base of the pyramid if companies link their own financial success to that of their constituencies. In other words, as companies make money, the communities in which they operate must benefit by, for example, acquiring basic services or growing more affluent. This leads to more income and consumption and triggers more demand within the communities, which in turn allows the companies' businesses to keep growing."
The architects of garrison politics, innocently or knowingly, robbed Jamaica of much of the wealth that's stored up in its people and institutions. But pointing an accusing finger will not get us as far as will pointing a way to the future. The future lies in hard but intelligent policing combined with revitalisation of marginalised communities falling outside the mainstream economy, which robs them of the fruit borne of free people operating in free markets. To that end, there are really only three crime-fighting options from which to choose.
Option 1: Deterrent strategy
This strategy centres on getting tough with criminals. It is based on the premise that the frequency with which serious crimes are committed is due to the perception held by criminals that they can get away with these wanton acts. The deterrent is to make crime cost (even life) where it once used to pay; more and bigger guns by law enforcement driving fear into the hearts of men. The JCF, under pressure to maintain the declining murder rate in the aftermath of Tivoli, whether they realise it or not, has in recent months slipped into adopting this strategy.
Option 2: Selective incapacitation strategy
This strategy is based on the belief that a large number of crimes are caused by a relatively small number of offenders from a select number of communities. The best way to deal with crime, the thinking goes, is to focus the limited resources on neutralising the "vital few" perpetrators in their nesting places, so to speak. An example of this strategy is targeting gangs and communities known to harbour them.
Option 3: Attacking crime at the root
The underlying thinking to this strategy is that widespread poverty, poor education, dysfunctional families, and other social maladies are the real causes of crime. Killing criminals or locking them away, without addressing the root causes, only makes room for succeeding generations more cold-hearted than the ones they replace.
A purely hard policing strategy may be effective in dragging the number of homicides down in the short term. Only by attacking the problem at the root will the gains be held. A strategy which combines hard intelligent policing with releasing the entrepreneurial energy within socially empowered communities is the best chance we have of ever transforming the zones of exclusion to zones of investment and opportunity.