Crime control: Myth or mystery?Thursday, June 24, 2021
Sandra M Currie
The matter of crime and violence has long been a torturing thorn in the collective side of countries worldwide, and governments have put in place measures to curb the ugly monster that have left its citizens hurting and grieving. Jamaica has not been spared and for decades has struggled with this grave issue. Successive governments have implemented measures and enacted Bills to handle crime and violence, but success in crime control has been elusive. As a result, the country continues to haemorrhage from murders and shootings perpetrated by gangs and other members of society.
The latest statistics for 2021 of murders in Jamaica have surpassed that of 2020 for the corresponding period. The year 2020 boasted a total of 1,323 murders, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) website. We are not yet at the half-year mark and murders are trending at approximately 500, which leads me to believe that this business of crime control is both a myth and a mystery.
It is the primary responsibility of the any Government to ensure the safety of all citizens, but this job becomes doubly difficult when such citizens lack confidence in the systems and procedures installed to deliver protection. At the very base, we depend on the security forces to keep us safe, but how realistic is this? In the last 20 years we have seen special operations squads (Eradication Squad, Anti-Crime Investigation Detachment (ACID), and Crime Management Unit), task forces, crews, and troops all created to impact crime and criminality to no avail. The Government has tried many avenues, including imposing states of emergency and establishing zones of special operations (ZOSO) in troubled communities across the island; this has yielded some success, but the bloodletting continues.
In the last four years we have seen climbing numbers in murder statistics, with 2017 toting the highest figure — 1,647. The print and electronic media report incidents of crime daily, and it's no surprise to hear the areas in which the crime scenes are located. Areas such as southern St Andrew and northern and southern St Catherine, central St Andrew, western Kingston, as well as St James and Clarendon have been the usual playground of the 'shottas'. However, other areas such as Westmoreland and St Ann have crept on to the radar of the security forces displaced criminal seek new ground.
Reprisal killings by rival gangs are recurring and contract killings have also been a growing feature, even involving family members. In addition to gun crimes, we are now seeing an increase in rapes, robberies, and child molestation, including buggery, and let us not forget the ever-plaguing beast of drug trafficking that provides access to guns, and the crippling grip of extortion that continues to drain the life of businesses of all sizes. And, while we continue to grapple with gun crimes, we have had several murder/suicides as the result of domestic disputes.
Crimes do not commit themselves, they are carried out by individuals with criminal intent, how then does any Government craft a crime plan that will significantly impact crime?
The argument of lack of social programmes and opportunities always appears when the conversation of crime control begins. The professors will argue strongly that the Government needs to do more to provide opportunities to reach unattached youths who are prone to becoming recruits for gangs. However, while this line of reasoning is proffered, the counter side of the countless number of programmes that have been rolled out by agencies such as the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) fully funded by the World Bank or the United Nations are not mentioned.
Additionally, while these programmes are designed to attract unattached youth, they are not interested in these types of interventions, as they are viewed as a waste of time. They will lament that they are neglected by the system and 'nutten nah gwaan fi dem', but refuse the assistance provided because it does not pay. So they gravitate towards scamming, human trafficking, and contract killing because they offer big dividends. Sadly, though, these illicit gains are used to create more poverty rather than being used to escape its grip.
It is true that at the end of the day our legislators have the lion's share of the responsibility in the fight against crimes. This also means that not only do they have to put measures in place to combat local criminal networks which have become well organised, but deportees as well. Increasing levels of crime are, in some respects, attributable to the learnt behaviour of these offenders who are seen as having honed skills in criminal behaviour overseas. For most, prison is not a place of rehabilitation, but a five-star resort which provides time for evil thinking. This is being enabled by easy correctional officers who facilitate contraband items entering prisons. This is not a new thing, but has been overlooked for decades. Nowadays prisoners are hosting parties, doing photo shoots and posting them on social media. Reggae artiste Jah Cure said, “Prison a no bed a' roses,” but that does not seem to be the case anymore.
This business of crime fighting, I believe, is a collective one. The Government, by itself, cannot accomplish this mammoth task. The individual, community, private/public sectors and the security forces all have a role to play in toppling this monster. The criminal justice system can be quite complicated, especially in the attempt to punish offenders for wrongs committed. Society expects the system to be efficient and quick, but with the protection of individual rights and justice fairly delivered. Ultimately, the balance of these goals is ideal, but it can be challenging to control crime and quickly punish offenders while also ensuring our constitutional rights are not infringed upon in the process of delivering justice.
Capital punishment, though still legal, has been shunned by the Jamaican Parliament, and as such there has been no execution from as far back. Human rights groups have been vigilant in this regard, and so whether or not hanging was a deterrent to violent crimes this mode of punishment has now been abandoned. Still, there are some who believe that had hanging remained our current state of affairs would be much different.
Harriott (2003) describes Jamaica, when compared to the other countries in the western hemisphere, as “an extraordinary case” and having an 'established' high level and pattern of armed crime and organised criminality. With this kind of branding, how do we accomplish the goal of crime control and prevention?
The criminal mind and intent
Corruption, irresponsible behaviour and a criminal intent can be considered as the core ingredients of crime. Governments worldwide have devised plans to combat this elusive culprit. The criminal mind is the most complicated and mountainous terrain that must be tackled to gain a foothold in this battle against crime and how to control it.
According to Adam McIntyre, Understanding the Criminal Mind, “Many crimes are the results of one's attempt to achieve happiness. People do not set out to commit crimes to make others unhappy, but to improve their happiness; not to subtract from others happiness but to multiply theirs.”
Additionally, Professor Stanford Samenow provides a rather insightful but controversial assertion in his book, Inside the Criminal Mind, “Criminals cause crime, not bad neighbourhoods, inadequate parents, TV, schools, unemployment. Crime results within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions… Once we as a society recognise this simple fact we shall take measures radically different from current ones… Crime resides inside the person and is caused by the way he thinks, not by his environment. Focusing on sources outside the criminal is futile…”
This is a psychological evaluation of one who is inclined to commit criminal acts. How then does the Government approach the issue of crime prevention? Is crime prevention or control even possible?
The issue of crime and violence has plagued Jamaica over the years and even caused us to be branded as “the murder capital of the world” in 2005. To date, crime is still trending and the criminal gangs have increased. A recent viral video on social media featured an eight-year-old boy with aspirations of becoming a gunman. Do we just accept that these are the last days — myth or mystery?
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