COVID-19: Lessons we have learntSunday, February 28, 2021
Prior to 2020, the world was a different place. More cynical, but less serious. We took things for granted. We could travel as we liked, party as we wished and actually plan our future.
This changed in 2020.
As a participant in sports, law enforcement, business, academia and parenting, I saw things I knew to be a fact become a farce.
Martial arts competitions that have stood the test of four decades were cancelled indefinitely. The tourist industry that Jamaica would die without went and yet our country still breathed. Academic activities that you simply had to travel to attend became an in-house 'office' activity with a desk camera. Most importantly, that child that you simply had to see no matter where in the world they were became a task as difficult as space travel.
We have adapted, we have learnt that what we assumed was a 'must' was simply an assumption and that the world will remain as it was. As we know it. As it suits us is simply a dream.
We should have known better.
Our grandparents were alive in World War II. Our parents were alive in the seventies in the Jamaican civil war. We have oral and written history that indicates that nothing really stays the same, that dramatic massive disasters occur every lifetime.
We have learnt a lot in law enforcement because of COVID-19 as well. We have learnt that businesses can be locked down at a given time no matter how wealthy the owner and who they know.
We have learnt that parties and dances can be banned and there is not a revolution in response.
Most importantly, though, we have learnt that a national curfew does not curb a murder rate.
This one was a bit surprising. I always assumed that it would at least curb the murders relating to robberies. However, I did not anticipate that as one type of murder decreases another type increases. I guess killers are going to kill irrespective of where they are as long as there is no mechanism to prevent them from doing so.
In fact, every violent crime that was not constricted by COVID-19's existence continued to occur at the same level.
If you look on the period February 1 to December 31, 2020 and compare violent crimes such as murder, shooting and aggravated assault with 2019, using the same dates, there is virtually no change. Yet, if you look on rape, robberies, larceny and break-ins there is a drastic reduction. The question is why?
Well, COVID-19 curfews are designed to keep people in their homes. Its enforcement is largely vehicular patrols of primary arteries, main roads and, of course, party prevention.
However, most homicides take place in inner-city communities or informal settlements. They are both not necessarily traversable by vehicles. Even the modern day inner cities such as Waterford or Braeton in Portmore, St Catherine, have pathways that allow for significant movement not detectable by motor vehicle patrol.
A peacekeeping unit would involve foot patrols of teams that are large enough to safely effect this activity, but remember this curfew is national and therefore that type of resource is simply not available at macro levels. So keeping killers in their communities is keeping them within a zinc fence of their rivals.
Rape, however, is one area of what I call a super violent crime that has shown a remarkable reduction of a 16.9 per cent decrease during the period of February 1 to December 2020 vs the same period in 2019. This differs from the other super violent activities like murder, shootings and aggravated assault, which had a 2.8 per cent decrease for murder, three per cent increase for shootings and was dead level for aggravated assault.
February 1 to December 31 was the period of research chosen, as knowledge of the novel coronavirus impacted human behaviour in Jamaica even before our first case on March 10th and the imposition of restrictive measures soon after.
So why the difference with rape?
Well rape occurs in several scenarios, but most often the offenders know the victims and have access to them. However, access to possible victims has lessened as the number of people at home has increased. Also, rape emanating from abduction is going to be reduced as there is less time being spent by victims in public and other vulnerable spaces.
What we have learnt, also, is that other major crimes such as break-ins, robberies and larceny have been impacted by the curfews and are showing double-digit reduction.
This is because of a mix of factors, including the security benefits of having less people converging in public spaces to the upside of having people stay home.
Going forward, I hope we use what we have learnt – that being curfew selection and execution has to be surgical and not applied over too wide a zone; that staying home more is the best remedy to staying safe, rather than tramping the streets at all hours of night like a 'leggo beast'; and most importantly, that only when an occupation of gang zones are actually occupying the zone and not the road in front of it will you see a true reduction in the killing in there.
This needed occupation, however, needs numbers, real numbers, not two blue-suited victims sent in as scapegoats. An occupational force needs to be formed nationally. This force can be created in a few ways, which I have suggested many times and will not bore you with again.
An additional method, however, is 'civilianising' many functions conducted by the police. Maybe directing traffic could become an activity done by traffic wardens rather than police officers. Maybe prison warders should run the lock-ups. There are many other departments that could be restructured to make more police available for police duties.
Let us take this period of the longest running curfew in Jamaica's history as a research area to improve our war effort going forward, because the public, the Parliament, the business community, and you, will never allow us to do this again.
So we need to learn from it this time, as there will be no doing this again!
Feedback: drjasonamckay@ gmail.com
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