The fiction they feed us


Sunday, May 19, 2019

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In 1993, a very honest, motivated and brave man, Colonel Trevor MacMillan, took control of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). This was an effort by the Government, which was at that time formed by the People's National Party (PNP), to bring about change in the force.

Like all good men MacMillan made mistakes, and this was in spite of improving the image of the force. One such mistake was disbanding the primary crime-fighting tool of the country — the Operation Squad. Other squads were formed, such as the Anti-Crime Investigative Detachment (ACID). Hmmm, odd acronym.

Anyhow, the two squads were effective, but different. Several years later, in 2000, the Crime Management Unit (CMU), led by the legendary Senior Superintendent Renato Adams, was formed. It was not Operation Squad but, boy, it really made quite a splash.

The reason the CMU was formed was the climbing homicide rate since 1993 — since coincidentally the abolition of the significantly effective crime-fighting unit. Of course, a plethora of reasons were given other than that. But, the dismantling of Operation Squad was one of the primary factors that led to the surrender of Jamaica to thugs and criminality.

The dismantling of the CMU in 2003 was the final blow delivered to a lawful Jamaica and it set the stage for Christopher “Dudus” Coke to stand up to the Bruce Golding Government in 2010.

Why? Because love, like, or dislike it, Jamaican criminals fear heavy-handed policemen.

So anyone planning to fight them with hugs and speedy trials should also plan for horrifying brutality and dead witnesses. Sad, but it is what it is. Or, maybe it is what they made it.

In 1994, the Government took a decision to repeal the Suppression of Crime Act that had existed since 1974. It was indeed an unkind piece of legislation that gave the Government oppressive powers of detention. It was repealed, and from 1993 to 2017 the murder toll moved from 651 to 1,616.

In 2017, the current Government passed the legislation that created the zones of special operations (ZOSO). They are, as I write, also passing the Enhanced Security Measures Act. My point of the above two examples is that we often believe that specific groups or laws exist because someone feels they should, rather than accepting that they exist because they are needed.

Operation Squad and CMU existed not because the JCF has a penchant for creating squads with cool names, but rather because these units are necessary to combat the threats that impact the governance of the country and the lives of largely poor people.

This is applicable also to laws that may appear draconian. The ZOSO and the Enhanced Security Measures Act are simply versions of the Suppression of Crime Act that was necessary to fight the unique blend of crime we have in Jamaica.

We are not the first country to use legislation when we realise that the threat level exceeds the constitutional framework. But, the country did not have to be washed with blood for nearly a quarter-century before we realised we had blundered.

Why do we keep pretending we have an environment that allows for control without an indefinite detention act? Or at least a really intimidating one. Is it because the lives we squander are those of the poor?

It is sad that our country is in this state. However, 'shoulda, woulda, coulda', we do not have the control we pretend we have. So fooling ourselves is counterproductive and downright dangerous.

So since no one wants to say it, let me: You cannot fight gangs of these sizes and those that are this well-armed without super squads and draconian detention acts.

If Colombia had taken the 90s approach, they would never have defeated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or I daresay, Pablo Escobar. The Americans would never have neutralised the threat of Muslim terrorism to the extent they have without the Homeland Security Act. Nor would the British have been able to combat the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland without the Special Powers Act (despite the fact that they should not have even be there).

Unlike other countries where granting police certain powers poses a danger to specific races or religious groups, we have no such issues. We do have political issues, but the construct of the Act could take those into account.

The first step in dealing with a crisis is accepting that it exists. The second is taking the necessary actions to combat it. This, whether talk show hosts, human rights activists, or foreign embassies like it or not.

So as we move to a new chapter with the dismantling of Mobile Reserve, let us accept that it existed not out of tradition, but because it was necessary. That unit, and our army saved us from a foreign invasion had we failed in defeating Tivoli in 2010. And that is one of the many times they have rescued this country.

Let me hope that what replaces it will be a section that is as good, as brave, as large; and as energised as that proud fighting unit.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback:

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