Police mustn't lose ground gained in crime fight

Criminologists can testify that not just in Jamaica, but globally, murders and acquisitive crime tend to increase in situations in which illegal firearms and ammunition are readily available to criminals.

Those old enough know that it was after the growth of what is often referred to as a gun culture in Jamaica, half a century ago, that murders got out of hand.

It's extremely problematic that, for decades, Jamaica and similarly under-resourced neighbours have struggled to control the smuggling of illegal weapons across their porous borders.

The great majority of such weapons originate in the United States, where liberal gun laws make it relatively easy for unscrupulous smugglers. Sadly, down the decades, successive US administrations have paid scant regard to appeals for greater preventive effort at their end.

The Jamaican Government has had to spend billions of dollars in ramping up the capacity of the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard to intercept gunrunners and others involved in the movement of contraband. We are told that in many instances there is a straight trade-off among such criminals — narcotics for guns and ammunition.

According to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, “People wonder why we are spending all this money; [it is] because we must stop the guns coming in. That is why we are putting the boats out there and we are going to [provide] more so that we can control our territorial waters.”

Hopefully, parallel initiatives to secure entry points at our ports — both sea and air — which are always vulnerable to the corrupt, will also bear fruit.

To put the gun issue in context, in 2019 Minister of National Security Horace Chang told the House of Representatives that an estimated 200 illegal guns were entering the country every month. That translates to about 2,400 annually.

Said Dr Chang back then: “So even when we get a hundred [guns], we not going anywhere…”

Nonetheless, efforts to find the guns and ammunition must continue and accelerate.

We are heartened by what appears to be improving intelligence which has led to much-publicised gun finds just recently, most notably 20 firearms and ammunition at the cargo section of Sangster International Airport a week ago, and an ongoing operation in the vicinity of the Stadium East field at Independence Park. The latter has unearthed multiple guns, including high-powered weapons.

It's often said in this space and elsewhere that for the security forces to succeed citizens need to share information, such as we suspect may have happened in Montego Bay and at Independence Park.

Such cooperation from the public requires the building of trust between those who are sworn to guard and protect and the people they are meant to serve. As we all know, a low threshold of trust has often undermined this relationship.

Hence our dismay at a report in this newspaper on Wednesday about residents alleging soldiers operating within the zone of special operations (ZOSO) in Savanna-la-Mar had beaten and abused people there.

Hopefully, those in charge will do a thorough investigation and act accordingly. Somehow, in whatever way necessary, the security forces need to rid themselves of the image — to the fore in far too many Jamaican communities — portraying them as heavy-handed, corrupt, and cruel.

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