More than normal policing needed now

Sunday, January 20, 2019

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A meeting involving the private sector, the churches, human rights, civil society groups, and political leaders should have been held last Wednesday to format a national consensus on security, specifically how the country can effectively combat violent crime.

That meeting, however, was not held, leaving us to wonder about the commitment to this cause, especially since individuals associated with these groups were critical of the states of emergency (SOE).

As we have repeatedly stated in this space, we do not think that now is the time to end the SOEs. Indeed, since the measure expired in the St Catherine North Police Division and specific areas in Kingston and St Andrew, we are receiving reports of violent crimes being committed, albeit not in large numbers as before the security measure was enacted.

Thankfully, the SOE in St James — where crime was spiralling out of control before the clampdown in January last year — is still in effect until the end of this month. Therefore, people living in that parish are still benefiting from the measure's impact on crime — a reported 70 per cent decrease in murders and a 58.6 per cent reduction in shootings for last year, compared to 2017.

But January 31 is just 11 days away, and we wonder what will happen then.

The Government has vowed that it will continue to be resolute and relentless in its pursuit of residents' safety and security.

“We will use all measures within the law, with respect for human rights and the dignity of the person, to ensure that your community remains safe,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the people of St James at a function in that parish on January 9.

We take him at his word, even as we recognise that he, along with the heads of the island's security forces, wanted the SOEs to be in effect for a bit longer in order to strengthen the country's security. However, that hope was dashed by the Opposition which voted against a further extension of the measure, winning support from some individuals in the groups that should have met last Wednesday.

The question now is when will they meet, and what measures will they propose to keep the crime figures trending down?

Possible legislative amendments that could enhance crime management capabilities of the security forces and additional resources — financial, technical, and human — to improve the capacity of the security forces were some of the issues discussed in a meeting between the Government and Opposition on January 7.

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson has suggested the creation of a crime-fighting measure that incorporates elements of normal policing with the security component of the zones of special operations, which are now in effect in two communities in St James and Kingston.

That certainly is an idea worthy of serious and urgent discussion. For even though, according to police data, 356 fewer deaths were recorded islandwide between January 1 and December 29, 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, the country still has an abnormal crime problem.

In fact, the prime minister has reminded us that Jamaica currently has a murder rate of approximately 47 per 100,000 approximately eight times higher than the global average of six per/100,000.

Normal policing, we hold, cannot effectively deal with that type of crime rate.

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