Gangs: You can't dismantle what you don't understand, Minister Chang

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Gangs: You can't dismantle what you don't understand, Minister Chang

Christopher Bryan

Monday, July 06, 2020

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Dr Jennifer M Hazen, a fellow at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, is an expert in armed groups, conflict dynamics, and post-conflict peace-building processes. She posited that: “Gangs have long been considered a source of violence and insecurity, but they are increasingly identified as a cause of instability and threat to the State. Yet gangs operate mainly in non-conflict settings, raising questions about whether applying a conflict lens to understand gangs is appropriate. Marked differences appear between armed groups and gangs when considering concepts of ungoverned spaces, the State, violence, and sustainability. Few gangs reach the threshold of posing a direct challenge to the State, this makes comparisons with other armed groups difficult and suggests the need for a more specific analytical lens.”

Criminal street gangs may be defined as any ongoing organisation, association, or group of three or more people having as one of its primary activities the commission of criminal acts or having a common identifying and whose members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity. However, according to Miller (1982), he defines a gang as: “A self-formed association of peers, united by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership and internal organisation, who act collectively or as individuals to achieve specific purposes, including the conduct of illegal activity and control of a particular territory, facility, or enterprise.”

G David Curry and Irving A Spergel (1988) argue that gangs are complexly organised, sometimes cohesive, and often have established leaders and rules. These groups engage in a wide variety of significantly more violent crime, conflict with other gangs, and often demonstrate a tradition of possessing distinctive territory, or turf, colours, and hand signs.

Gangs can be identified into three categories. First, generational gangs. These are the traditional, localised street gangs whose structure and leadership are not well defined. They mainly commit street or community crimes, such as robberies, rapes, larceny, and other misdemeanours.

Second, generational gangs. These are more structured with more centralised leadership. They are more inclined to committing crimes and violence to secure their income markets from drugs and other contraband.

Third, generational gangs. These gangs operate as mercenaries and/or terrorists across boundaries on the global scales to inflict mass death, which challenge the security of the nation-State.

Gangs have a history of existence in Jamaica. Ironically, a Jamaica National Crime Victimisation Survey conducted by Dr Scott Wortley, et al, in 2012-13 revealed that respondents who reported that corner crews, gangs, or area dons existed in their communities, are doing positive as well as negative things for their local area. Four out of 10 respondents (43 per cent) felt that area dons did positive things for their community. A third of respondents (31.2 per cent) also felt that corner crews did positive things in their community.

According to the respondents, the positive contributions of area dons include employment opportunities, assistance with health care needs, food, and financial assistance for disadvantaged community members, educational and recreational opportunities for community youth, and increased community safety. The identified benefits of corner crews include community beautification and cleanliness, public safety and assistance to the elderly. Only 18.9 per cent of respondents felt that area dons harmed their community. By contrast, 78 per cent felt that criminal gangs had a negative impact. More than a third of respondents (39.8 per cent) also felt that corner crews harmed their community. The survey also gathered that the negative impacts of criminal gangs include increased violence and gun-related crime, as well as drug trafficking, property crime, and prostitution. Gangs also increase fear of crime and reduce community solidarity. By contrast, the consequences of corner crews include minor criminality, harassment, increased noise, and public intoxication.

Previous police administrations had focused on dismantling the gangs and occupying their space to reduce crimes and violence in Jamaica. In April 2012, former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington reported on the significant reduction in criminal activities that have been achieved, particularly in the Corporate Area, was due to the police's ongoing efforts to dismantle criminal gangs and other organised crimes. He said that he was pleased to say that there are several divisions in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that have seen a very dramatic reduction in criminal activities. He mentioned the divisions in the Corporate Area as examples. The Kingston Central Division, which averaged over 100 murders per year in the recent past, and completed 2011 with under 20 murders. You will note it is among the primary police divisions that National Security Minister Horace Chang reported on this year as the most troubling.

Ellington further pointed out that this trend has been replicated across the Corporate Area divisions, noting that the divisions which had accounted for over 70 per cent of all violent crimes had now moved to about 30 per cent. He concluded by stating that those results were achieved in Kingston and elsewhere in Jamaica because they had focused on dismantling the gangs and organised crimes.

In a Jamaica Observer article dated May 20, 2020 Chang declared that, up until the end of 2019, 389 criminal gangs were operating in Jamaica. This was up by eight, where there were 381 in 2018. Some 250 (or 64 per cent) was active then, and 139 (or 36 per cent) were inactive. He suggested that 323 (or 83 per cent) were first-generational gangs, 66 (or 17 per cent) were second-generational gang, and there was no third-generational gangs. The minister further stated that Area 4 Police Division( Kingston, central Kingston, western Kingston, east Kingston, and St Andrew Southern) accounted for 249 (or 64 per cent) of the gangs with the St Andrew South Division (one of the smallest police divisions) accounted for 78 of these gangs. The Area 5 Police Division (St Catherine North, St Catherine South, St Andrew North, and St Thomas) accounted for 57 or 14 per cent of these gangs, and the Area 1 Police Division (St James, Trelawny, Hanover, and Westmoreland) accounted for 52 (or 13.1 per cent) of these gangs. No gangs were reported in Area 2 (St Mary, Portland and St Ann) or Area 3 divisions (Clarendon, Manchester, and St Elizabeth).

In many communities across the island, gang members enjoy strong community support which makes it difficult to isolate them. Even so, over the last three years there has been a significant increase in the number of gang members identified, apprehended, and prosecuted, Dr Chang concluded.

A gang has to be active, therefore inactivity should not be used to define a gang nor for reference purpose. It would be interesting then to determine how those active gangs are broken down in the respective police divisions for better analysis. However, it is obvious that these gangs have occupied and are more active in certain geographic areas.

Jamaica's first strategic goals on crime and violence are to reduce violent crime and dismantle organised criminal networks. How this is being done the minister will probably expound later. However, he must ensure that there is a highly effective police force that is properly structured and manned, with well-selected, suitably trained, and properly equipped personnel who are held accountable for performance and conduct at every level, and managed by high-quality leadership with strengthened oversight and safeguards in place to focus on continuing the dismantling of these criminal gangs in the country.

Christopher Bryan has read for master's degrees in government and national security and strategic studies. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or christopher.bryan1000@gmail.com.


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