Columns

Missed opportunity to have a crime czar

Henley
Morgan

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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Appointing Major General Antony Anderson commissioner of police, and burdening him with the expectation that he will transform the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and reduce the homicide rate, is a classic example of the wasted action Albert Einstein must have had in mind when he coined the following phrase which has become one of the most enduring quotable quotes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Simple deductive reasoning will bring the rational thinker to the conclusion that the murder problem in Jamaica is bigger than the police, regardless of who sits at the helm of the JCF. Over almost one generation — starting with Commissioner of Police A G London in 1965 and continuing to George Quallo, who tendered his resignation as top cop earlier this year after just nine months in the post — only three of the 16 commissioners of police who served over the period left a lower homicide rate in the year when they demitted office than the rate that greeted them in the year of their appointment. Two of them, W O Bowes and Lucius Thomas, served for less than two years, and the third, Owen Ellington, benefited from the Tivoli “security operation” and so might be considered out of the norm.

Forgive me for not holding my breath in expectation that things will be different now. This is not a criticism of the JCF per se, or of Major General Anderson and his ability to bring about change. It is a barefaced admission that, with a homicide rate consistently upward of 40, and that has reached 60 per 100,000 people in the populace, Jamaica is an outlier in its murder trajectory. The country's murder statistics place it above the level of deaths used to define civil wars and thus beyond the capability of civilian police to contain without itself becoming a breaker of the law.

The following quotable quote by US President Abraham Lincoln is appropriate to the circumstance in which Jamaica finds itself: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” We need a new game plan equal to the threat confronting the nation.

The zone of special operations (ZOSO) initiative is a timely but impermanent and unsustainable solution. It's tantamount to giving each household in a community its own security guard. No wonder communities, in addition to the two where it has been imposed, are clamouring for it. Furthermore, ZOSO has been ineffective in bringing in the guns or the criminals off the streets. We need a more cost-effective and efficacious deterrent to murder and the fear it breeds. We need a parallel action to regular policing that can reduce the homicide rate to below, say, 20 per 100,000 people in the populace (which would still rank Jamaica among the most murderous countries in the world), thus giving the JCF time to be reformed and, hopefully, within three to five years being in a position to hold the gains and bring about further reductions.

This column has been consistent in its recommendation for our policymakers to consider going in a direction similar to the path taken by the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York, which claimed almost 3,000 lives. The Homeland Security Act was passed in 2002 and the organisation bearing the same name established as a federal agency soon thereafter.

There are several features of the Homeland Security Act and the corresponding agency that are appropriate to Jamaican security considerations. One is its independence and autonomous nature in relation to any existing security body and its resistance to political manipulation. Another is the almost singular focus, initially, on protecting the American people, preventing a recurrence of any 9/11-type attack and, in the event of such an attack, assisting the recovery effort. Another is the combination of policy and operations in a single agency. Still another is the almost supra-national authority to command a joined-up response by the hundreds of federal agencies to a threat or an attack. This, in my opinion, makes the secretary of homeland security a crime czar. Jamaica needs a crime czar.

I thought the Government might be going in that direction as, in December 2016, Major General Anderson was appointed the country's first national security advisor to give the prime minister and the Cabinet advice on internal and external security matters. My hopes were kept alive with the passage of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Act two Tuesdays ago. The Bill is intended to establish MOCA as an independent body and to transform it into an elite investigative, intelligence-gathering, and crime-fighting agency operating autonomously of the JCF. My hope was that the same approach would be extended towards other JCF non-geographic formations, such as Mobile Reserve, thus cost-effectively providing a new crime czar with the response ability and the deterrent muscle to subdue the murderers. By the way, a careful study of police statistics will reveal success by the JCF in steadily reducing the incidence of almost every category of crime outside of homicide. The JCF should be left this task while it reforms itself.

Alas, with the appointment of Major General Antony Anderson as the next commissioner of police any hope of seeing a new and different approach to bringing down the rate of murder in the country has been dashed. Either the Government is content with just buffing and polishing an old strategy that has not worked, or is afraid, in the context of local politics, of putting so much power in the hands of one man. Whatever the reason, we have missed an opportunity.

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

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