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JamaicaEye — Is this the answer?

Al Miller

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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The eyes of the Lord are in every place watching the evil and the good. — Proverbs 15:3

The building of a nation ought to be the shared responsibility of every citizen. Each should be educated by home, school and church to use their gifts talents and abilities in service to others and nation. Everyone has something to contribute. Individual action should not be divorced as the nation is a reflection of the sum total of individual action.

In building the new Jamaica this concept should be taught in schools and inculcated in all citizens. Zealous engagement by all has to be a priority. Each of us, in a spirit of service, should be always seeking opportunities to serve and make a difference. How is your present activity contributing?

In our quest to see the new Jamaica emerge we have to raise, examine and change the things that are hindrances to that process, and also acknowledge and promote things that will advance the process. I have been saying, and firmly believe, that we must commit to work to see our nation in 2018 turn the corner towards realising the dream of a new Jamaica. I was greatly encouraged in that direction this past week by an initiative and some of what it signalled.

JamaicaEye, the island's first public closed circuit television (CCTV) system was launched this past Wednesday under the auspices of the Minister of National Security Robert “Bobby” Montague. It is intended to be a contributing technological aspect of the Government of Jamaica's crime plan bringing to light those who would otherwise be able to commit their crimes with impunity. Be warned, evildoer, JamaicaEye is now watching.

It will serve as a deterrent to many would-be offenders. It is accepted that one of the biggest factors in the growth of crime is the belief that one can commit the crime and get away with it as the apprehension possibility is very low.

I am a wholehearted supporter of the increased use of technology to fight crime, or to improve banking services, as I wrote last week. However, let me 'moralise' again as some readers put it: Not much will improve if we do not pay attention to and address the morals or accepted cultural proclivities of our little island. Neither will much improve if the CCTV human support aspects don't do their jobs or are not given the supporting elements for quick response. Remember, cameras can't catch criminals. The CCTV is only a tool to be manipulated for good by the humans that operate the system. If our moral bar continues to be low, then both criminal and criminal catcher will by their behaviour condemn the system to ineffectiveness, and crime will rise, making the technology of no effect.

Making the most of this good initiative needs the simultaneous values and attitudes push for mindset and behavioural change in the majority of our citizens, particularly the children and youth. If we continue to avoid the transformation of our value system then the $181-million expenditure so far, and any to come, for our new CCTV JamaicaEye system will be a waste as citizens steal the necessary installed components, both from on the road and in-house at the ministry or wherever the monitoring aspects are installed.

Does anyone remember when Emancipation Park was first transformed from the mundane Liguanea Park to the beauty it is now? Do you remember video and picture evidence that appeared on the news of Jamaicans stealing lights and other park fixtures? One unforgettable video is that of a Mercedes Benz driving up and a supposedly well-to-do Jamaican removing ornate park fixtures perhaps for reinstallation in their home garden up the hill.

Shift in the crime fight

The willingness to publicly begin to use technology in the fight against crime and assist public order is tremendous and long overdue. Is this an indicator that we are ready for a more proactive approach and to assist police effectiveness?

The minister also used the JamaicaEye launch to appeal for a serious bipartisan approach in dealing with crime. We need an agreement on crime, he declared, and went on to posit that maybe the best gift political leaders could give to this generation is an agreement and working together on defeating crime. A good signal.

The occasion of the launch and the spirit of camaraderie displayed by the minister and the Opposition spokesman on national security, Fitz Jackson, was refreshing and gave hope that perhaps, finally, we can begin to tackle the issues of crime from a united standpoint. A good signal.

The minister also appealed to citizens and citizen groups to get behind JamaicaEye and utilise it to aid in protecting our communities from criminals. So I appeal to my countrymen and women, let's partner with the ministry to put a dent in crime.

The speed in which this new initiative was conceptualised and brought to public view is another sign that signals hope for a new Jamaica. I am told that it took less than a year, from ministry conception to launch of JamaicaEye on Wednesday. We must recognise this as a miracle in Jamaica and applaud it!

It proves that we have lying dormant in our public servants the ability to move speedily from conception to implementation on any matter to which we put our hearts and hands. The minister ought to publish the names of all civil servants involved in this project. Now this is a list I would look forward to seeing much more than the publishing last week of the delinquent student loan borrowers.

In speaking to the worth of the expenditure, Minister Montague declared that the “bang for that buck [so far] is immeasurable”. While I applaud the minister and this initiative. The best bang for the buck we will get is the installation and inculcation of a programme of acceptable national morals from early childhood onward through university.

That said, I think the Ministry of National Security, members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force, as well as the public servants responsible should be soundly applauded for this initiative. We often spend time soundly spanking them for the many evidences of failure in our security and justice systems, but a resounding national round of applause is deserving here. For, despite the concerns of negative behaviour of some members of the police force, we must deeply appreciate the hard work of the many who give of themselves tirelessly and at great sacrifice to serve us.

Pro and cons

There are some CCTV opponents who feel that it is an invasion of citizens' privacy and allows 'big brother' Government to spy on us. Those of this stripe believe that the issue of the invasion of your privacy outweighs the advantages that CCTV systems will deliver for the public good. There are others who will argue that there is no empirical evidence that CCTV systems deter criminal activity. Let's consider both:

CCTV systems will undoubtedly invade the privacy of all of us as we seek to use it to curtail the behaviour of some of us. But the question must be asked: If you are on the right side of the law, why would you oppose being recorded?

Interestingly, about 2,000 years before CCTV, a first-century lawyer wrote this:

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3, 4) Clearly he would be a potential CCTV supporter had he lived in this time. For me that settles the issue.

The two basic responsibilities of any good Government is justice and defence, or what is referred to these days as 'public safety and security' of its citizens. An inability to adequately carry out these two functions is an indication of governmental failure. A part of their justice responsibility is to punish violators. Therefore, all actions of Government which strengthen public safety that is fair and justified should be supported.

More interestingly, those who still oppose this technological advancement because it invades their privacy do have a valid point, but personal privacy in the public space cannot supersede public safety of the community. It's perhaps much ado about nothing. The reality is you really are already being tracked and observed in other less formal ways. Your cellphone and many of the other communication devices already provides information on your location and whereabouts with such great accuracy.

CCTV systems, as proposed to be used in the JamaicaEye project, benefit not only crime prevention, apprehension and possible conviction, but as was pointed out they will serve well in times of disasters to direct the deployment of critical help needed to ensure the well-being of our citizens.

Will cameras

Some argue that CCTVs do not necessarily work as a deterrent to crime. Admittedly, even CCTV sales and consultant gurus, like Cara Clarke, admit that their use in deterring crime is primarily anecdotal. Deterrent anecdotes aside, what I do know is that it can help apprehend criminals. We have a CCTV system installed and we have been able to recover stolen property because we were able to track the persons who participated in the theft.

However, it is important to answer the question as to whether it works or not for it is costly. Consider therefore the following 2014 study from Cornell University in the USA:

“One systematic review attempted to answer that question. The review, sponsored by the Campbell Collaboration, analysed 44 studies that measured whether CCTV helped to reduce crime in parking lots, housing developments, and on public transportation systems. It drew some interesting conclusions.

“The researchers found that video surveillance systems were most effective in parking lots. Across the studies included in the analysis CCTV resulted in a 51 per cent decrease in crimes committed in parking lots. CCTV resulted in a 23 per cent decrease in crime on public transportation.

“However, in other public settings, CCTV yielded a small or no decrease in crime. The authors did note some limitations in the data they used. Many of the studies did not specify whether there were signs indicating whether CCTV was used in the area, raising the question of whether it is more or less effective to notify the public about video surveillance. Other factors, including the quality of light and the percentage of areas covered by CCTV, are also important variables that many studies did not take into account.

“More research is needed on this topic. But the evidence we have to date indicates that video surveillance is a useful tool for deterring crime.” ( http://evidencebasedliving.human.cornell.edu/2014/10/03/does-video-surveillance-deter-crime)

Perhaps what Minister Montague can do is ensure that there is a research component to the JamaicaEye programme that could eventually contribute to the body of evidence regarding CCTV systems as a deterrent as we use it to reduce criminal behaviour in Jamaica, land we love.

I am reminded of the poignant words of Jesus who is called the Christ. He said, “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light... But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:22, 23)

It is contingent on us all to ensure that JamaicaEye works for every community. The darkness called crime and violence that has enveloped our nation must be dispelled. Here is an opportunity to help to do something about crime. Let's pool our resources and get cameras installed in our communities and linked into the national system. Seize the opportunity! Let's all, regardless of political stripe, seize the opportunity to get behind this programme for the good of our nation.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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