By Leo Gilling
Leaders are not without blame for painting a picture that crime is easily solvable. Not so. Problems like high crime built up over the years do not disappear at the stroke of a wand. No matter how much money is infused. If it appears resolved quickly, watch for the reappearance elsewhere. High crime moves from location to location if extreme militant approaches are thrown at it. It will continue and become a central chronic social, political, and economic problem and the blaming between political leaders. It will continue, the search for a solution is buried, and the word becomes “mum.”
Major crimes like murder in Jamaica have been a problem in the country for decades.
Jamaica is one of the most violent countries in the Caribbean. In 2022, there were approximately 52.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the island nation. Gov.UK earlier warned its UK citizens in 2022 not to travel or be careful when traveling in West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, August Town, Harbor View, Spanish Town, and certain parts of Montego Bay, including Flankers, Barrett Town, Norwood, Glendevon, Rose Heights and Mount Salem. Westmoreland has become, or is fast becoming, the crime capital of Jamaica. This is the reality of the little country, Jamaica.
the Diaspora perspective, some of the most asked questions of government officials, when they visit the various Diaspora regions in multiple forums, town halls, panel discussions, and radio programs, are: when will crime be resolved? What is the government doing about crime? All want a quick fix. The officials, knowing the truth, cannot respond directly and honestly. They give all kinds of song-and-dance roundabout answers to appease the public, attempting to prevent further outrage.
The truth is, Jamaica’s or any country’s crime problem does not go away by talking, verbal warning, making new laws or more stringent ones, or reintroducing the death penalty. Crime will also not be reduced with a patchwork of many back-to-back States of Emergency, improved technology (especially if it’s not effectively used) or adding more police on the streets. Reducing crime means carefully crafting strategies based on the issues faced and implementing them precisely and constructively. Crime in Jamaica is like a “metastasized stage-four cancer of the pancreas.” Crime worsens daily, even if there is a slight reduction here and there; the problem is out of control. The only difference between the crime problem in Jamaica and an aggressive pancreatic cancer is that there is hope. Crime reduction is not easy. It is a steady reduction in numbers over time with consistently executed principles. There should not be any celebration if there are minor reductions and then an upswing. Only a steady down-slide of an extended period deserves celebration.
Jamaica has hope for the aggressive pancreatic cancer, which is that there is an opportunity to fix this problem. However, it requires executing several key actions. Key actions include but are not limited to:
- Adjusting the existing crime plan,
- Reviewing and implementing some or all of Robert Peel’s nine policing principles,
- Identifying the applicable criminological theories and
- Applying them to policing strategies.
- Use existing data to make decisions
- Involve criminologists and criminal justice professionals to guide policy decisions
- Include the public and its needs.
Almost all police department worldwide owe their policies and operations to Robert Peel. Here are Peel’s nine principles: They mirror the actions needed.
- To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
- To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties depends on public approval of their existence, actions, and behavior and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
- Always recognize that guaranteeing and maintaining the respect and approval of the public means also ensuring the willing cooperation of the public in securing observance of laws.
- To recognize always that the extent to which the collaboration of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of using physical force and compulsion to achieve police objectives.
- To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by the ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by the ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by the willing offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
- To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is required on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
- To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historical tradition that the police are public and that the public is the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- Always recognize the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions and refrain from even seeming to usurp the judiciary’s powers of avenging individuals or the State and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
- To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
The criminal justice system is a critical component of any society, and its effectiveness is essential to maintaining law and order.
Policing is one of many plans to execute, however. Implementing sound cultural, social, and employment opportunities in court and corrections systems must be aligned with police programs. Proper assessment and evaluations are also necessary to understand the processes, problems, and impact.
Alongside policing, the criminal justice system includes courts and corrections, critical components of any society working together to ensure justice is served. Gov. UK stated in a report that the current conditions of the prisons in Jamaica require upgrading. They are overcrowded and exceed the capacity the institutions intended to house. Multiple prisoners share inadequate cell spaces. This is unacceptable.
As part of the crime reduction strategy, rehabilitation of prisoners is essential. If prison is not on rehabilitative activities, the result is that inmates are more hardened and will likely reenter society, being worse criminals than before; that means heightened recidivism rates.
Rehabilitation should include proper diet, physical spacing, climate, vocational education and training, medical treatment, adequately paid and trained wardens and corrections officers, clear rules and regulations, and activities to prepare them for reentry into society.
The criminal justice system should include capable, balanced, fair prosecutors, judges, support staff, and upgraded technological advancements. Technology should be paramount to maintaining proper record-keeping. When a case is brought to court, the police would have already used appropriate and legal evidence-gathering skills to collect evidence through an officially recognized process, having a high level of certainty that the accused is responsible for the crime. The case is correctly documented before submission to the Director of Public Prosecution, who tightens the evidence before the court hearing, making a sound case to get a conviction. A conviction is essential, as that rate helps deterrence.
Currently, the system encourages increased caseloads without solid evidentiary practices. It is no wonder, in a Gleaner news article in January 2022, Judge Bryan Sykes lambasted prosecutors for their persistent failure to provide supporting evidence and also accused the police of taking too many shortcuts in the high-profile case. This is not good practice. The ultimate goal of the police and prosecution is to increase the conviction rates. The prosecution has the final say regarding whether a case is submitted to the judge for court. A “certainty of conviction” level should be achieved before the case is sent to court. Time, effort, and funds are going down the drain without certainty.
Critically, a clear-up rate means nothing to deter crime. It encourages crime instead, especially if the clear-up is due to a lack of evidence or arrest without the possibility of conviction. A clear-up rate is not a deterrent; a high conviction rate is. The aim and focus of the police and the prosecution is to attain a high conviction rate in court.
A good court case is a competition between the prosecution and defense where a guilty verdict is attained. Each guilty verdict sends the accused to prison, increasing the idea that they will be caught, tried, found guilty, and punished if they do wrong. Such is the classic form of deterrent when all citizens believe they cannot get away with an illegal act.
Jamaica has one of the lowest conviction rates among countries, which implies a lack of respect for police by citizens. With insufficient deterrents, low conviction rates, and a lack of police respect, Jamaica could be heading into a state of anarchy.
Jamaicans in the Diaspora and at home care about their country and want lower crime rates. Such will not come early and not by militant procedures. It will only come after the police respect the public and the public respect the police. People are not able to police themselves, and police will get nowhere with a continued iron hand; the people will not cooperate. High crime will outlive many of us, and for younger individuals, the benefits of a practical crime strategy will be realized only when they reach their golden years. Sir Robert Peel said the police and the public need each other to solve crimes. There are so many strategies available that police can use: problem-solving-oriented policing (POP), Community Oriented Policing (COP), Evidence-Based Policing (EBP), Hot-spot policing, Broken Windows Policing, and many others. The police department must act on the many studies to improve crime fighting. They must seek help from criminologists and criminal justice professionals to help create, implement, and evaluate policies.
Leo Gilling is a Diaspora Strategist & Engagement Advocate and Chairman, Jamaica Diaspora Taskforce Action Network (JDTAN)