Controlling crime beyond states of emergency

Monday, September 24, 2018

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This newspaper is on record as supporting the states of public emergency in sections of the country, as well as the various recent time extensions, even as we agree that this approach cannot be a long-term solution.

Also, it's clear that the majority of Jamaicans support emergency measures. That's for the simple reason that there has been significant reduction in criminal activity in all the areas where soldiers and police have extraordinary powers.

Indeed, many are asking why the Government has restricted the emergency measures announced yesterday to only Kingston Central, Kingston Western and St Andrew South police divisions.

What about Kingston Eastern, sections of Clarendon and Westmoreland? People are asking. Those are also places where criminals have been on the rampage. Such is the impact of crime that many are asking why there can't be an islandwide lockdown.

We know that inadequacy of resources, both in personnel and material, is a major limiting factor. Also to be considered is the possibility of economic fallout from any external perception that Jamaica is out of control.

That said, even as extraordinary powers should be retained for as long as necessary, it is clear that it can only be a band-aid. It cannot be the answer to the country's crime problems.

To begin with, Jamaicans and their leaders need to accept that crime won't end overnight and that there has to be a long-term approach. Also, Jamaicans have to guard against a day when crime figures have fallen to such a level that complacency sets in, the authorities take their collective eye off the ball, and criminals feel free to retake spaces.

So what should be the long-term approach? This newspaper has said repeatedly that community organisation and action must be central to crime-fighting.

Often we hear appeals for individuals to come forward and tell what they know. Our contention is that people in leaderless, disorganised communities are much more likely to see and stay blind, hear and stay deaf because they feel like they are on their own. There is no one watching their backs.

The situation becomes worse in the Jamaican environment since many people — especially at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder — distrust the police. Obviously, clean-up of the constabulary must form an important part of the anti-crime strategy. And, while it may be taking too long, we have no doubt that there is an ongoing strengthening of will to deal with corruption in the force and, indeed, in other sectors of society.

But at the bottom line it seems to us there has to be an articulated determination, which will be acted on, to organise communities to build leadership within those communities with a view to partnering with police and ostracising criminals. Positive spin-offs, we believe, will include people finding ways to help themselves socio-economically through cooperatives of various sorts.

Crucial to all of that must be an effort to take care of children at the grass-roots level to make sure that every child goes to school, is adequately nourished, and supported materially and psychologically. If, as is constantly said, children are the future, then the society must act to take care of children. Otherwise, Jamaica will still need states of emergency to deal with crime decades from now.

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