Orville Taylor | Systemic approach to crime needed
It is like squeezing a tube of toothpaste or a fat man putting on an ill-fitting girdle. If you put too much pressure on the contents, it will simply shift to other parts. Jamaica is a
system, an island, where everything is connected. Importantly, we have municipal and parish borders that are only recognised and maintained by government agents such as tax administration and law enforcement.
However, crime is mobile, and I do not only mean people moving from town to town. Rather, it first has to do with the movement of the criminal mind. Yeah, the same mens rea over which I got into trouble with one of my faithful readers.
Locking down areas and temporarily abridging human rights does help to some extent. After all,we have to agree with the statistics that homicides in St James have declined by some 77 per cent since the declaration of a state of emergency (SOE). Yet, given that homicides have actually increased systemically means that at best, the crime plan is so-so, as we say here in Jamaica.
Gunmen on rampage
Moreover, just a few kilometres away in the same county, gunmen have been on a rampage, showing little fear of the security forces. In the early weeks of the SOE in Montego Bay, there were brazen attacks under the nose of the lawmen and military at a funeral. Last week, the nation was stunned when they struck again in Westmoreland. At least 17 people shot, with seven, including a child and an infant, dead.
Have no delusions: Hard policing with appropriate use of deadly force, if necessary, is always a real option. Doubtless, it has its place. Criminals must know that not only are they likely to be caught, but that the lawmen have firepower and personnel who will repel any weaponry that they might have.
Nevertheless, it doesn't take a lot of brains to figure that there is the likelihood that the criminals who have managed to escape the dragnet might have simply crossed over into adjoining parishes or have gone to their 'chargies' in Killsome City. As a matter of fact, as I have maintained in the ongoing research we are carrying on into the correlates of criminal behaviour in Jamaica, if one wants to really make sense of the crime statistics, especially homicides, the data need to be collected regarding not only where the killings took place, but where the victims resided. Similarly, the most useful data are where the alleged perpetrators themselves are domiciled.
A military solution is a stopgap measure, and at best is short term. Unless the strategy is to eliminate the criminals by seeking them out and executing them like rats, the long-term use of soldiering is at best illusory. In an open, civilised democracy, effective policing has to be the tool. For this to happen, the average citizen, but especially those who reside in the places where the criminals live or frequent, must be inclined to cooperate with the police or the military. If acting as police, Jamaicans would, naturally, cough up the malefactors.
Still, it is a long walk between information and evidence, and many individuals may feel that they need to inform the agents of the State. However, they are gripped with real fear because:
i) they know that the criminals have pure impunity and
ii) they do not necessarily believe that the police or soldiers can protect them, and
iii) there is a belief that their personal information might be leaked by the lawmen to the very criminals.
Unfortunately, although not widespread, some of the latter is with merit. Interestingly, though, sometimes the leaks come from stupid family members of the victims, who themselves chat like Madda Lashy, and poor Detective Dibble gets the blame.
Politicians and criminals
Even scarier is that there are times when intimate policing information, which only politicians know, finds itself in the ears of the criminals. We need to be brave and bold as a nation, because there is still tangible evidence that there are some politicians who are in bed with criminals. The discovery of the firearm owned by an elected official is not the first such incident, and the criminal connection knows no colour.
For this reason, my position regarding policing must be that the chief constable must not be a lackey of the government. He must have enough stature to stare down even the prime minister on matters, without fear or favour, and the ministers must allow him to do so. Soldiers, however, are not policemen, and they are sworn to obey the prime minister or his proxy. Under a state of emergency, soldiers control policing; and that, though necessary, is not sustainable.
Nonetheless, we need social intervention, in the community that produces the 'shottaz'. For all the knowledge that we think that we have, young men do not simply wake up one morning and decide that they are murderers or gang bangers. The explanation and thus the solution lie in the entire set of social relations that produced and support them.
We have to begin with a slow process of reducing the propensity of our young men to commit certain types of crimes. It is not as difficult to pinpoint, and it certainly isn't rocket science. Rather, it is social science. Many variables are associated with the likelihood of young men and women getting into major crimes.
Oftentimes, the narrative is about the absence of fathers or 'broken homes', and the increase in teen mothers or the 80 per cent of us who are children of fornication. Those are hardly good explanations because the data do not support the arguments.
Finally, has anyone ever asked whether there is enforcement of the Proceeds of Crime Act to prevent criminals from having access to their filthy lucre to pay legal fees? I will write about that anon.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.