Ja's murder figures tell of a state of emergency

Richard Hugh

Monday, November 06, 2017

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According to a World Bank Report published earlier this year, the direct cost of crime to Jamaica in 2014 was $61 billion, or four per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The Inter-American Development Bank also reported that the indirect cost of crime to the country on an annual basis is about seven per cent of GDP, and includes investments that might have come to this country but didn't because of concerns about crime and corruption. This included the loss of human capital, as the island loses a lot of its skilled people who emigrate to other jurisdictions as personal fear becomes a component of that decision. Crime also impacts people's propensity to save and invest in Jamaica, a decision they are less likely to make if people believe they are going to become victims of a crime.

According to this report, the Latin America and Caribbean region remains the most violent region in the world, with a homicide rate of 24 per 100,000 of the population in 2015 — murder rates that are about four times the global average. Jamaica's murder rate is nearly twice this number when taken nationally and when looked at on a parish or city level.

With a population reported by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica at the end of 2016 at 2,730,000, the island, up to the end of September 2017, has recorded more than 1,150 murders at a rate of 42 murders per 100,000 of population. This ranks Jamaica as the fourth most murderous country in the entire world. If that picture is not bad enough, for a country that depends heavily on tourism for its livelihood, these figures are even more damning.

The parish of St James has a population of 186,000 residents, 111,000 of whom live in the parish capital Montego Bay, which reported 255 murders year to date at a staggering rate of 230 murders per 100,000 of population. At this rate Montego Bay is unquestionably the deadliest city in the entire world and tracks at 38 times above the global murder rate. If we express the murders against the parish's population of 186,000, the parish of St James reports a murder rate of 137 per 100,000 of the population and is still the deadliest place in the world for countries not at war.

A look at other parishes reveal a similar situation:

• Westmoreland, with a population of 145,000, has reported 89 murders to date with a murder rate of 61 per 100,000 of the population.

• Hanover, with a population of 70,000, has reported 44 murders to date with a murder rate of 44 per 100,000 of the population.

• Kingston and St Andrew, with a population of 670,000, has reported 285 murders to date with a murder rate of 43 per 100,000 of population.

• Clarendon, with a population of 248,000, has reported 91 murders to date with a murder rate of 37 per 100,000.

• St Catherine, with a population of 522,000, has reported 151 murders to date with a murder rate of 29 per 100,000.

Any reasonable person will appreciate that, as a country, we are in a crisis. The consensus among planners and sociologists is that we did not get to this position overnight, and that the circumstances that have birthed the current conditions similarly cannot be changed overnight.

There is a definite need to cauterise the bloodletting, and significant investment will need to be made to revamp and renew the communities with heavy incidence of crime and at-risk groups.

I have written of the need to change our approach to education as the current approach only serves to warehouse more than 60 per cent of our youngsters at the secondary level and does not educate them for the world of work, or even tertiary studies. Our economic development approaches are equally out of step with the country's social requirements, which leaves our youth to their own devices.

Added to that is the fact that government policies over the years were merely designed to grab attention, rather than to concretely engage the population. It is for this reason that our business environment has remained static and unable to provide either the growth or the additional jobs needed to improve the economic affairs of the country.

It is for this reason that I have and continue to criticise the so-called zone of special operations (ZOSO) programme. I believe it to be nothing more than PR stunt, as we have always had the legal tools do what ZOSO has been created to allow. A more useful approach to the crime fight is for the kind of police/military deployment in the ZOSO to be applied in the six or seven parishes under a limited state of public emergency, with among its specific objectives being the rounding up those suspected of being involved in criminal activities and placing them under detention until the cases can be properly presented in our courts.

That, though, would create an entirely different challenge given the problems with our decrepit justice system.

I believe that Prime Minister Andrew Holness still commands the attention of a majority of Jamaicans and it is his job, both as head of the Government and minister of defence, to make the tough calls necessary in this fight and back the efforts with the required financial resources. He must also provide a timetable over which certain measurable objectives can be tracked by all Jamaicans.

I believe that all Jamaicans will agree that the current crime epidemic presents a serious threat to our national and economic security. It is time for the prime minister to stop pussyfooting and take decisive action against crime.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. yardabraawd.com Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.




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