Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | December 30, 2012
Home : Commentary
Significant progress made in reducing major crimes
2012 will end below 1,100 murders ... the lowest since 2003 and well below the annual average of 1,467 for the years 2008 to 2011.

Peter Bunting, Contributor

THE PERFORMANCE evaluations conducted by the media on the minister/ Ministry of National Security have so far been quite superficial. In the case of the article written by Gary Spaulding, 'Gov't's silence - anything but golden', it borders on inane. Spaulding writes, "He [Bunting] does not possess the stature or charisma to drive fear into hoodlums." The implication is that the veteran journalist's ideal for a national security minister would be another politician " full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Since Independence, there has been no shortage of tough-talking ministers of national security and draconian initiatives such as the Suppression of Crime Act and various special operational squads. Notwithstanding the tough talk and bold initiatives, there has been a long-term, almost ineluctable deterioration in Jamaica's safety and security environment.

It is important, therefore, to put information into the public domain that is fairly comprehensive and evidence-based. Hopefully, this will facilitate some objective analysis of the policy options facing the country at this time.

The reality is that in 2012, significant progress has been made in reducing all categories of major crimes. The 2012 year-to-date Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) statistics show that at December 23, 2012, all categories of serious violent crimes are down seven per cent. (See table.)

Barring a substantial spike in the last few days of the year, 2012 will end below 1,100 murders. This figure will be the lowest since 2003 and well below the annual average of 1,467 for the years 2008 to 2011.

Context

In order to fairly evaluate the 2012 crime statistics, however, it is important to appreciate the context in which the year started:

1. By the second quarter of 2011, the salutary effect of the May 2010 Tivoli operation had started to wane. (In the period between May 2010 and the first half of 2011, murders decreased by an aggregate of 30 per cent.) In fact, the number of murders per calendar quarter grew steadily from 242 in the first quarter of 2011 to 306 in the last quarter of 2011. In 2012, that trend has been completely reversed and with only days to go, it can be projected that there will be less than 250 murders for the last quarter of 2012 - an 18 per cent reduction compared to the corresponding quarter in 2011.

2. The security forces had been starved of capital investment for the three years 2009 to 2011 and struggled to maintain sufficient presence on the road due to inadequate numbers of motor vehicles. Compounding this was the poor state of fleet management generally, and the Transport and Repair Division, in particular, that has been chronicled by the Auditor General's Report on the management of police motor vehicles covering fiscal (years) 2007-2011.

3. The uncertainty surrounding pension reform caused hundreds of police personnel, primarily from the supervisory ranks, to opt for early retirement to avoid possible reductions in their pension entitlements. This negatively affected the management and administration in many police divisions islandwide.

4. The lottery scam had grown exponentially between 2007 and 2011 without an effective response from law enforcement. The scam was not only fuelling criminal organisations and violent crimes in Western Jamaica, but also threatening the future of the business process outsourcing sector.

Policies and strategies implemented in 2012

Having established the context and environment inherited from the previous administration, here are the policies and strategies that this administration implemented or initiated in 2012:

2012 National Security Policy (NSP)

First, we completed a 2012 National Security Policy (NSP), which identified the threats to our national security, and more important, prioritised these threats based on a probability impact matrix. The NSP identified five key reforms necessary to successfully tackle crime, corruption, and violence:

i) remove the profit from crime

ii) reform the justice system

iii) police by consent

iv) dismantle gangs

v) focus on at-risk individuals and communities.

Establishment of MOCA

In response to the first key reform recommended in the NSP - i.e. removing the profit from crime - the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption (MOCA) task force was established. This task force focuses on the criminal kingpins and their facilitators (including public-sector officials) who are accustomed to operating with impunity. A key strategy of MOCA is to use the Proceeds of Crime Act to forfeit the illicit assets of its targets. MOCA also reconfigures our intelligence architecture by combining vetted personnel from several agencies - the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), the Financial Intelligence Division, Customs, Tax Administration, etc. - in this single task force, thus eliminating the challenge of accessing different silos of information/intelligence.

The lottery scam task force, established in January 2012, has been absorbed as a unit within MOCA. It has significantly disrupted lottery scam operations this year. With a number of legislative measures identified to assist with convictions, it is expected that 2013 will see greater headway being made against scammers. This progress has encouraged United States (US) Law Enforcement agencies to revive the JOLT initiative which combines local and US government efforts in investigations and may eventually lead to extraditions.

More boots on the ground

The most effective short-term response to containing gang conflicts and gang-related violence (this accounts for 70 per cent of the overall violent crime) is to blanket the conflict area with security forces and prevent the gangs from operating freely, while reassuring the citizens and providing a sense of safety, security, and stability for the community. The effectiveness of this approach was demonstrated in the St Catherine North Division in February, and again in the St James Division in late September. These two police divisions have each shown dramatic reductions in murders since these strategies were implemented. Therefore, it becomes critical that the security forces are enabled to respond in this manner to flare-ups in hot spots across the island.

The Government has responded by providing the budget to recruit and train over 1,000 police and 600 soldiers by March 2013. This is the fastest rate of recruitment and training of security forces since Independence.

Vehicle fleet effectiveness

This Government has also provided a $600-million budget to purchase new vehicles in the current fiscal year. This amount exceeds the combined allocations for vehicle purchases in the previous three fiscal years.

A great deal of work has been done this year to improve the operational processes of the T&R Division resulting in approximately twice as many vehicles currently being serviced and repaired daily, relative to the start of the year.

Policy and legislation

Despite long-standing constraints in the legislative machinery, this administration is far advanced in the preparation of a number of key pieces of legislation to assist in the fight against crime, namely: DNA Legislation, Anti-Gang Legislation, Amendments to POCA, Advance Fee Fraud Legislation, and the Evidence (Special Measures) Act 2012 (now passed). Work is also proceeding on a number of other policy initiatives including the merger of the Island Special Constabulary Force and the JCF, as well as combining the Police Forensic Lab and Legal Medicine Unit into a new executive agency.

Communication, culture change, and social intervention

The Ministry of National Security recognises that crime control/policing measures alone will not be sufficient to achieve our targets so there is also an active set of strategies targeted at crime prevention. These measures fall into two broad areas.

The first involves a communication strategy that tackles the dysfunctional elements of our culture such as our propensity for violence, the legitimisation of criminal activities and organisations, and anti-authority messages such as 'Informer fi dead'. Many of our popular entertainers are effective proponents and disseminators of these dysfunctional messages.

We have engaged the traditional media with two campaigns: 'A Gang is a Dead End' in March/April, and 'Silence Brings Violence' in October/December. To increase youth engagement, we have expanded our social media strategy, employing platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, to provide assistance, information, news and real-time updates to our growing audience.

The second crime prevention area is direct social intervention in our most volatile urban communities. The Citizens Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), our main social intervention mechanism, has this year been expanded to over 50 communities, bringing educational, vocational and recreational support to at-risk youth.

A new element of the CSJP is a six-month on-the-job internship with the JDF Engineering Unit for almost 500 participants. After receiving HEART Trust training, the youth are able to put these skills into practice at various JDF project sites. In addition to honing their construction skills, they also receive a 'work readiness' orientation by both precept in weekly lectures and more important, by the example of the soldiers with whom they are working.

In conclusion, this administration has been deliberate in its approach to crime management, with clear strategies for both crime prevention and crime control. All agencies and departments of the Ministry of National Security have strategic, complementary mandates, informed by the corporate objective - to reduce the murder rate to First World levels by 2017.

Peter Bunting is minister of national security. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com.

Significant progress made in reducing major crimes

Crime figures for 2012

Murder down four per cent,

Shooting down nine per cent

Sexual offences down seven per cent

Acquisitory crimes down seven per cent




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