A new beatitude for crime control

Frank Phipps

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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The Jamaica Observer reported on August 2, 2015 that, “National Security Minister Peter Bunting believes that controlling the flow of guns into Jamaica will not, by itself, solve the country's crime problem. What is needed, as well, is a change in the culture of violence.”. And, two years later, also in the Observer (November 2, 2017), guest columnist Richard Blackford wrote, “Right now, Jamaica's crime cancer is eating us alive, and even if we put in all the social intervention programmes desired, crime management and control is still a matter for the police”.

The Gleaner editorial of Monday, January 15, 2018, 'In a state of anarchy', suggested that Government has lost a grip on crime and the country is lurching deeper into anarchy. As well, Americans have been advised by their Government not to visit certain areas here — some of us wouldn't dare go there, or even near there, while others live there. So it is that Jamaica is ostracised like hell with communities infested and overrun by crime to remain in eternal damnation and others in purgatory quarantined by fear to avoid spread of the disease.

The Gleaner editorial of Wednesday, January 17, 2018 sums it up by saying that the many attempts to reduce violence in Jamaica have all failed. The programmes that have been tried with massive spending of scarce cash to deal with the ever-escalating problem of violent crime, especially murder that any day may spill over to cripple the entire country, provide no lasting solution to the problem.

In the 70s there was the infamous and expensive state of public emergency that was misused for partisan political purposes when the only benefit was victory at elections. There was the Suppression of Crimes Act giving the police extraordinary powers depriving citizens of their fundamental rights for what was only a dent on the body of crime while the problem remained; and we still put up with the Gun Court that was “red because it was dread”, where the sacrifice of public trials exceeded its beneficial value.

We all remember the stories of horrors and terror in Tivoli Gardens in May 2010 in a failed attempt to capture one man to solve someone else's crime problem and, hopefully, ours as well, that we are still paying for. Now we have the zones of special operations (ZOSO) locking down communities identified for crime control and providing social intervention with 'goodies' such as our resources allow. When the Bill for ZOSO was before a committee of Parliament I questioned whether it was a good idea to provide social investment in communities infested by crime. I suggested that it could be seen as reward for bad behaviour. What if we tried something different by providing social intervention to communities in need and with good behaviour where violent crime is concerned, empowering them to keep off criminal infestation? It would form a new beatitude for crime control that requires taking care of one's own safety.

Crime control should not be left solely to the police. It is time for the people to assume the primary responsibility to control crime in their community. The Sunday Gleaner of July 23, 2016 suggests that there are persons who know the wrongdoers in the communities where crime is rampant, some even benefit from criminal activity and remain silent. This silence is what frustrates efforts at crime control, causing devastating effects on the whole community and traumatising the nation. The police are entitled to some sympathy and understanding in carrying out their duty, although our support is at times withheld when they are doing the right thing the wrong way.

If the proposed new plan for control of crime is to work, both the citizenry and the police need to have another look at themselves for a change in attitude. In the crime-prone areas, where silence reigns and crime prospers, the people there must be made to realise that they have to solve this problem themselves and not allow it to spill over to other law-abiding communities in the parish. Why deprive crime-free communities of social and economic benefits while feeding the beast?

There should be no reward for communities while they encourage or embrace criminal conduct. Instead, sanctions should be imposed on those communities in the form of a boycott or withdrawing commercial and social relations as practised in international affairs. This could be considered as one of the “firm and resolute measures” the Government plans to take ( Observer, January 18, 2018). The good and not-so-bad people should be induced to break the code of silence and do what is necessary to hand over the wrongdoers; ultimately, to release themselves from hostage by criminal gangs.

Spending money to prevent crime is better than reacting to crime. This will require strengthening the neighbourhood watch programmes, through which the people will keep an eye out for their own safety, with more district constables appointed to the communities and active justices of the peace to enforce and preserve law and order at the first step for security. Indeed, self-defence is the best defence.

The strong arm of the police must always be relied upon for support when things threaten to get out of order. In a climate of peace, schools and churches will thrive, social and sporting activities will be maintained through citizens' associations. Blessed are the communities where crime is under control, for they will inherit prosperity.

One small point on allocation of resources for crime control and where the money must come from. Serious thought should be given to compensate victims of crime and the State for the costs of prosecution. We hear of cases in which convicted offenders are gainfully employed behind bars. This should be encouraged as a way for the offender to compensate his victim and pay the State for the costs of investigation and trial. I cannot see why the taxpayers of this country must be further burdened with providing sustenance for the victims of crime while the offender is living rent and boarding free at the State's expense. Work in prisons must be both to rehabilitate and to compensate for injury. Those who are contemplating a life of crime will soon realise that when crime pays it must pay the victims.

Postscript: Since writing, a state of public emergency has been declared for the parish of St James. This firm and resolute action must be followed by action to prevent the guns from moving to unprotected communities. This is why self-defence is called for. And, by the way, it is section 20 of the Charter of Rights that permits the governor general to declare a state of emergency. There is no section 26 in the constitution.

Frank Phipps is a Queen's Counsel in Jamaica who continues to service the field of law. Send comments to the Observer or to




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