Whither our response to crime

Where crime and violence are concerned, it appears as though there is a certain kind of hopelessness, a feeling of almost battle weariness, which has crept insidiously into our consciousness.

At The Daily OBSERVER, we have a front row seat into the criminal acts that occur daily across this country. Almost every day we get to see the police blotter which tells the story of the men and women who are terrorised by the criminal element.

We get to hear, too, the stories of those who, because of myriad reasons, are afraid to go to the police, and who feel more comfortable in telling us, in the hope that somehow we can right their wrongs.

We hear the fear in women’s voices when they tell of how they cower in their beds at night, awaking at the slightest sound. The more fortunate reveal how many locks they have placed on their doors and the security alarms they have installed.

Just last week, employees of two businesses, a supermarket and a Western Union outlet had guns placed at their heads as they were relieved of cash. At the start of the year, a middle-aged man was robbed and murdered in his home. Yesterday we recorded yet another killing.

Crime and violence is a societal phenomenon with which all countries grapple. Huge sums are expended to, as they say, “Take a bite out of crime.” And, that is perhaps all that we can hope for – to stem the tide, so that it does not completely overwhelm the society.

A few weeks ago a criminologist on The Big Issues noted that because crime is a complex phenomenon it must be tackled as such. He advised that the better approach to solving crime is to employ scientific problem-solving techniques.

The good part is that there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Studies have been done to show what works and what does not.
In 2006, in response to escalating crime figures, the prime minister announced he had ordered an urgent and comprehensive review of the island’s crime-fighting capabilities and a reassessment of police strategies in arresting the seeming crime wave.

It’s been almost eight years since that statement was made and there has been no abatement in crime. Some might even say it has gotten worse. It must be about time to have another re-assessment of crime fighting capabilities and police strategies.

When we hear of the crime stats of neighbouring St Kitts or even Jamaica, there are some who say things are not so bad here after all. But the truth is, one killing is one too many. How do we measure the toll crime takes in lost productivity when employees are confronted by a gun and relive the experience for years to come? How do we count the cost when advisories are issued to potential visitors?

Some say we don’t need to press the panic button, but we need not bury our heads in the sand either. Things will not get better unless we take drastic measures to deal with the criminal element.

At different times we have all heard the lament, recently repeated by the head of the force, that the answer to solving crime is more and more police vehicles and if only the lawmen could have access to more transportation then things would improve drastically. We wish it were that simple.

It has long been established that crime is an outcome of failures at varying levels of society, including the family. The remedy must therefore lie in a multi-prong approach.

Recently, Jamaica commissioned a study in prison to find out which groups or individuals are likely to resort to crime. The results were instructive and controversial. Young men from single parent homes, and those who attended schools where academia was an aside, were deemed more likely to resort to crime.

Of course, on cue, there were accusations of profiling and stigmatisation from certain quarters. Preceding the probe was an initiative to empower law-abiding nationals and improve their level of safety and security called, “Unite for change.” It allowed for the introduction of mobile phone apps – iReport, Panic Mode, The Law, or Alert icons to report incidents of crime, seek assistance from the police or be informed about their rights.

The essence of the matter here is that the tired old remedy of boots and more boots or vehicles and more vehicles, or even stop and search exercises are not being employed here. There is a concerted effort to tackle the problem on several fronts.

According to the report, the Revised National Security Policy outlines six main imperatives to effectively reduce crime, namely: removing the profit from crime, reforming the justice system, policing by consent, dismantling gangs, focusing on at-risk individuals and strengthening governance and oversight structures.

A leaf from a Caribbean neighbour’s book just might be in order.

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