We do not need a crime plan!

...but we need more than a limited state of emergency

Canute Thompson

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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What is a crime plan really, and why does a Government need one? The business of government is to pursue socio-economic growth, development, and transformation. Within that context, attention is given to a wide range of factors that make for socio-economic growth and development. The incessant talk should be a socio-economic transformation plan within which attention would be paid to a host of issues including, but not focused on crime.

The key element of this socio-economic transformation plan would be the quality of education and training and socialisation of the young. The other elements would be governance, job creation, equitable opportunity, support for small businesses, health care, public safety, the preservation of the environment, and justice administration.

The genie has long been out of the bottle on the aetiology of crime. It is largely through investment in education and family life, as well as in the creation of meaningful opportunities for economic engagement that we will see a reduction in crime. As to why successive governments have failed to accept this relatively simple logic and construct national development plans with this logic in mind is a bit mind-boggling.

Back in the 1990s Professor Don Robotham advised the Government that dealing with the problem of crime required significant investments in early childhood and primary education and the bold, but painful, acknowledgement that the then current generation of youth in their 20s, who were involved in crime, had effectively been lost. Gordon Robinson, writing in The Gleaner on January 14, 2018, seems to be making a similar point when he suggested that fixing the crime problem will take at least half a generation — which is at least 10 years.

If we are to deal effectively with crime we have to take a long-term look, even while we engage in short-term solutions. I suggest that there are a few components of a comprehensive strategy to contain crime, and one that is built with a larger framework of a comprehensive national development plan. These are the strategies:

(1) Root cause action: The Government must engage in the sociological and public health assessment which identifies the drivers of crime. The evidence is overwhelming that weak family structures and a floundering education system are central. In short, the notion of a crime plan as a stand-alone strategy to treat with criminal conduct is an unsound conception of how to deal the runaway murder rate and other forms of crime that Jamaica faces.

I recall Peter Bunting, the former minister of national security, saying his job is largely to correct problems which the education system and the home had failed to address. Ambassador Burchell Whiteman, in an interview with me recently, shared that he had told the late Wilmot “Motty” Perkins that the media should not be so hard on then Minister of National Security K D Knight for the levels of crime; instead the media should blame the education system.

I have repeatedly called for mandatory skills and military training for unattached youth. So, while the lion's share of resources spent on education and training must go to the early childhood and primary levels, protecting the investment in post-secondary skills training requires that there be some legislative underpinning. Anecdotal evidence suggests that too many recruits into skills training programmes drop out.

The Manchester Peace Coalition, a new civil society group formed in 2016, has as its mission: To reduce domestic violence, promote better parenting, reduce school drop-out rates, support uniformed youth groups in Manchester and income-generating projects in the targeted communities. It cites data which show that 50 per cent of repeat murderers were abused as children.

Crime is a public health disease rooted in the quality of parenting and the education system. The more loving discipline and sound education a child receives, the less likely it is he/she will be involved in crime. Research in violence prevention and community development by people such as Elizabeth Ward, Herbert Gayle, Michael Coombs, and Horace Levy has shown that the weaker the family systems, particularly the absence of fathers, the more likely it is that boys will be involved in criminal activities.

(2) Opportunity removal: The State must take steps to reduce the opportunities for engagement in crime. One such is corruption in the public contracting system, another is in the area of trade. I am amazed at the number of used-car dealerships that are springing up all over Jamaica. In the small town of Mandeville, for example, (inclusive of Spur Tree) there are about 40! I simply wonder where so many young people get money to import so many cars. The police tell us about the increase in lotto scamming activities in Mandeville.

Once the authorities have identified the opportunities that create space for criminals and the criminal-minded to exploit, measures need to be put in place to neutralise these means. Criminals need foot soldiers and, with the legions of unattached, unemployed, and under-employed youth, criminals have an advantage over the law-abiding and law-enforcing elements of society. And although criminals are much fewer in number, they have one thing that most of us do not have — the inclination or willingness to die in the line of duty. The government must firstly take steps to reduce the vulnerability of youths.

(3) Safe space: At the same time, the Government must pledge to protect those of us who wish to speak. The Government cannot ask citizens to join in the fight without the pledge of protection. It is for this reason that I find the failure of National Security Minister Robert “Bobby” Montague to tell the country why two men in witness protection were removed from the programme. That decision may have contributed to the collapse of the case. How many other citizens have refused to join the fight because the State and its officials, including the police, have proven they cannot be trusted?

(4) Consequence management: We need a justice system that is capable of catching criminals and putting them away. The clear-up rate for crimes is abysmal. The chances of not getting caught are greater than getting caught and, as shown by the recent case of a five-year sentence for possession of 18 guns, sometimes the sentences are too mild.

ZOSO was bound to fail

The Government's zones of special operations (ZOSO) initiative, as currently conceived, must not be seen as a credible approach for sustainably dealing with crime. When the first ZOSO was announced I wrote: “As at the time of writing (8 am, August 30) at least 1,014 murders had been committed in Jamaica since the start of the year, an average of about four murders per day. There have been several instances of double, triple, and quadruple murders. This mayhem is spreading to more and more parishes, thus reflecting an endemic and embedded culture of taking others' lives due to lack of regard for life. With that stark reality, how could it be conceivable that any law or any police/military operation could stop murders?

“The fact is that the police cannot be everywhere at the same time. Thus, there is nothing to stop a barbaric-minded youth from walking into a shop in a declared zone of special operations and spraying bullets, then jumping into a waiting car and fleeing. There is nothing to stop a heartless man or woman from stabbing his or her spouse to death in the dead of night over some trivial matter. No amount of policing can prevent altercation between patrons at a dance and one killing the other. For the Government to suggest that the ZOSO will eliminate murders amounts not only to an over-simplification of a problem, but a reflection of a continued misunderstanding of the problem.”

We have ended 2017 with record number of murders, despite two ZOSOs. Even if the law permitted more than two ZOSOs at any one time, as my good friend Martin Henry would like, there would simply be inadequate resources to achieve this. What is remarkably strange, however, is the Government's choice of areas for the ZOSOs. The Mt Salem declaration as a ZOSO reeked of politics — not only because the country was told that it selected itself with the Government using woefully inaccurate stats to support its decision, but more so because the neighbouring community of Salt Spring, which in fact had far more murders than Mt Salem, was not included, even after it was recommended that that community be included. The most potent call for the inclusion of Salt Spring came from mothers in that community who wrote to the prime minister and begged him for inclusion.

The facts are that Salt Spring is a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) stronghold in a JLP-controlled constituency and Mt Salem is a People's National Party (PNP) stronghold also in a JLP-controlled constituency in the parish with the highest number of murders in 2017. Within less than 48 hours after the first ZOSO was launched the prime minister was claiming success. His claims that at least one person had told him that at last she could sleep with her windows open was the sign that ZOSO was about short-term political gamesmanship. However, the failure of ZOSO is to be found both in the flawed philosophical conception and what appears to be its politically contrived execution.

The minister of national security is now saying he badly needs the PNP on board, and has even implied, in a recent press release, that it is the PNP which has been unwilling to come to the table. Wow! Despite the seeming political sideshow, it is undoubted that a bipartisan (and broad stakeholder) approach is needed. Let us hope that we can achieve this, but I agree with the Adventist pastor in Montego Bay who has called on the prime minister to apologise to the country for the flippant comments he made about crime while in Opposition, given the harsh bloodletting that now faces the country. I submit that good faith bipartisan work requires that the prime minister should publicly renounce that reckless statement.

Addendum: State of emergency

There seems to be a unanimous welcome of the state of emergency in St James. Anything to stop the runaway murder rate is welcome. But I expect that the Government is fully seized of the fact that this state of emergency is not, and cannot be a medium- or long-term fix. It is also a recognition that a limited community ZOSO has been completely ineffectual.

An effective response to the social disease of crime requires a multi-pronged approach with the weight of resources being devoted to dealing with the root causes of crime. A state of emergency cannot treat root causes of crime, it is merely treating with the worst symptoms. The root causes of crime remain poor parenting, generally weak family structures, and the lack of efficacy of the education system. Unless we take steps to effect reductions in the number of teenagers who are raising children without family and community support, significantly increase the number of schools that are performing satisfactorily to transform the lives of students, and provide more youth with access to decent employment, we will continue to have a problem with crime.

In a time of desperation we tend to welcome anything that promises relief, in much the same way a person in pain will welcome respite. But the necessary decision of a state of emergency in the most murderous place on Earth should not lead us to think that we have found or implemented a sustainable solution to the disease of crime.

…and we need info on the used car purchases

The Government needs to come clean on the used car purchase fiasco involving a company with reportedly close ties to the governing party. The country needs to be vigilant on this issue. I have raised at least 20 questions on this issue and here raise another four:

(1) Did the Government pay the taxes on the first set of 30 cars that were delivered and, if so, on what basis did it make that payment and what factors led to the decision not to pay the on the second set?

(2) What were the provisions of contract between the Ministry of National Security and O'Brien's International Car Sales Limited concerning the payment of taxes, and were there other provisions in this contract that were atypical relative to contracts between the Government and other suppliers of motor vehicles?

(3) Has the Ministry of National Security drawn down on the performance bond, as it said it would, and if so will the Government provide the public with evidence of this money having been recovered?

(4 Will the Government tell taxpayers in whose name the payment of the sum of over $200 million was made, and the account to which that money was lodged, as well as account for how that money was used, that is, whether it was expended to purchase vehicles?

I recommend that Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee invites O'Brien's CEO to provide some information.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or

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