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Crime cancer: Emergency surgery needed now!

Al Miller

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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The year 2018 has to be when we make a frontal and successful attack on our #1 problem — crime!

There are many sides that must be considered in an open and balanced way. Some we have ignored to our peril. Ignorance, real or feigned, must cease immediately, along with playing politics with this rot that threatens the life of our country.

I wrote last week that 2018 calls for bold, honest, open, and decisive action. It calls for the willingness to speak truth and face the real issues for what they are, and work at workable solutions and not just put a Band-Aid on this gaping wound — this big, dutty sore foot that is so foul with gangrene that it is threatening our entire body politic. Emergency surgery is needed now, and all doctors — regardless of the colour of their scrubs — are needed in the surgical ward now!

If 2018 is to be a turning point on crime, we must honestly look at all angles and develop strategies accordingly. Here are some questions and other critical areas surrounding the issues that must be considered now:

What's causing the increase?

The reports are that we had a 19.4 per cent increase in murders last year and, as the editorial team at another newspaper observed, “If the trend of the first eight days of the year is maintained, Jamaica will record more than 1,800 murders in 2018, or nine per cent more than the previous worst-ever year of 2009.”

What is the cause of the increase in gangs and subsequent increase in murderous gang warfare? Our history has demonstrated a bad conceptual approach to problem-solving, resulting in our solutions becoming problems themselves and often multiplying them. If we create a problem to solve a problem then the best wisdom has not been discovered to solve the problem. Hence, hold strain, think again until the proposed solution is not in itself creating a problem or increasing it.

One major example of this in the past is the police strategy of going into an area to take out (kill) gang leaders or dons and often by extrajudicial killings. In the short term, it appears to curtail or disrupt the gang, but the end result is that it splinters and multiplies them.

This is what has happened: It spread out the gang members into all the parishes. So we now have more dons and more crime springing up everywhere. This is also true in the garrisons. Where once there was one don in a community, we now have five or 10 controlling smaller areas, with each feeling he has to have his own armoury and soldiers, thus the corresponding increase in mayhem.

Who's providing the guns?

I find it difficult to conceive that the intelligence I have received of what is happening on the ground in some particular areas could be true. Could it really be that, despite all the crime we are having, there are a few politicians, businessmen and police officers at various levels who are still issuing guns or giving assistance to the process in some communities?

Could there be Jamaicans here and in our diaspora who are so wicked, so depraved, that they would continue to worsen our rotten and putrid crime sore by supplying guns and ammunition? Yet, it seems to be true.

The supply of guns is costly! Look carefully at the example of the recent seizure of a whole barrel full (plus boxes) of guns and ammunition which was coming from Miami to Jamaica. We saw in the press the 119 guns laid out on a table. Isn't it interesting that we hardly ever hear about the cost of these guns? A typical 9mm handgun costs $150,000. Multiply that by 115 and you get $17.25 million, and add the cost of the rifles and we are looking at $18 million easily. The fact that someone would consign such a valuable shipment to be sent through the regular channels for delivery in Jamaica clearly suggests that they had an expectation that the shipment would arrive safely and be delivered to the consignee.

Consider for a moment how many people must be involved in such an undertaking in order for it to succeed. Anyone who has ever sought to import a barrel or box into the country will be familiar with the virtual obstacle course one has to navigate before your possessions can leave the airport or the wharf. What about the stripping of the barrels? What about the assessment of duties? The security checks? The manual searches? In the recent case mentioned, it also appears that there was a tip-off, as the barrels and boxes remained unclaimed.

How many people must be complicit in these undertakings in order for guns and ammunition to so readily get into the country? The only way that the importation of guns can have continued for so long is if the involvement is widespread and systemic.

How many shipments were not caught? If the US authorities had not located the guns, would we ever have heard anything about them? Or would these guns simply have made their way onto Jamaica's streets? What happens to the guns once they get off the wharf? Is there a central distributor? Or several?How many crimes would have been committed with them? How many additional deaths? It's time that we start answering these questions, don't you think?

If the status quo of anything is only maintained because it is benefiting someone, then who is benefiting from our current gunrunning status quo? When we ask that question, then we must go to the issue of the money. As they say, follow the money.

In Jamaica virtually every industry is controlled by a cartel — a group responsible for overall operations. So who is running the gun business in Jamaica? Who is the cartel? Are we to conclude that with all the intelligence-gathering we do not know; or is it that we don't care to know, or are afraid to know, or are we just not saying?

The person supplying the guns is just as culpable as the one who ends up in possession of the gun. It makes no sense to keep targeting the man on the street who gets caught with a gun. If the enquiry never goes beyond him, then we will never get to who provided the gun, who imported it, who distributed it — the whole organisation above the youth on the street never gets touched, and the truth is if the 'gunman' gets caught or gets killed, he is expendable anyway. Another simply takes his place. It's literally like picking a mango and expecting the tree to die.

Our current framework focuses primarily on the so-called gunman and leaves the gun importer and gun distributor to continue the supply. No investigative pressure or consequences are pursued against those higher up in the organisation.

In the US, they confronted with this issue by recognising that crime was highly organised and had to be treated as such. They passed federal legislation, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which allowed the prosecution of top-tier mafia and other criminals for the crimes actually committed by those lower down in the organisation. We must now ask, is there not a need for RICO-type legislation in Jamaica? This ought to form a part of any serious Jamaican crime plan.

The police force

Another area for serious consideration is the police force. We must accept that all the research, both from outside and within the force, confirms corruption is endemic and that there is little trust by the public, thus weakening the effectiveness of the force in intelligence gathering and in its ability to successful bring charges against offenders. Therefore any crime-fighting strategy in this crisis situation must consider that reality and plan to mitigate against it.

A commissioner asked to conquer crime with a force that has endemic corruption has been given a basket to carry water. Adjustments must urgently be made to procedures and/or regulations to allow the commissioner authority over selection of his team members. That would give him the leverage needed for him to make a difference.

Reports say the current commissioner is a man of integrity; therefore, we must empower him with total freedom to select a leadership team he can trust to navigate the corrupt waters and deliver some results in short order. Since we may not be able to disband the whole force and start again, then the next best alternative is to do what corporations do when they take over a failing or struggling company. They change the senior management team. This enables fast culture change to get early turnaround. If we do anything less we cannot realistically expect the best results; or for that matter, hold the commissioner accountable.

Another aspect is that the national security system as it is has hamstrung not only the commissioner but the minister of national security, and by extension the prime minister and his Government — rendering them virtually powerless and yet demanding operational results. This is not new. It has been this way for years, but we must now address it.

How can the minister be held responsible for crime-fighting when he is excluded from directing the force? We recognise the historical reasons for limiting the political influence over the police, but did we apply the wisest solution?

When this decision was taken, did we have a force that was fully capable of self-direction? Where is the appropriate line between policy and operations? What we really wanted to address was the politicising of the force — the idea of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) having loyalties or affiliation with political parties so that the exercise of their official functions was coloured by inappropriate considerations. We don't want the politicians to treat the police as an extension of the party or utilise the force in a partisan way against particular communities or people. But did we also mean to render the minister incapable of delivering results?

The Government (not the party) must be able to direct the apparatuses of the State to deliver the services that the country needs, including an effective police force. The system must mature to the point at which we can distinguish between 'government' and the political party that has won power. We must find a way to ensure that we do not “cut off our nose to spite our face”.

Our current national security dilemma may have been influenced by the fact that we imposed a model from elsewhere that's not appropriate to our circumstances. Our national security arrangements were an attempt to de-politicise our police force. The view was to have a JCF that could stand on its own operationally without undue influence from the political directorate. However, corruption had already entered, so we never had in Jamaica a truly professional, well-staffed, and equipped police force that was capable of standing on its own and which could therefore be given autonomy in its approaches and operations. Going forward, we have to revisit these arrangements and be careful to ensure that proposed solutions fit the reality of our conditions at any given time.

A bipartisan solution

A bipartisan approach is not a solution to our crime problem. We do need bipartisan commitment to the process to effectively deal with the problem. Just like I have often said that the police cannot solve the crime problem, as they are a major part of the problem too; so too both political parties cannot do so — tribal division, garrisons and donmanship were created by the parties and are maintained directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, by them.

Admittedly, the political parties and the police have absolutely vital roles to play and have to be a part of the solution, but by themselves or together they cannot. They have not for 40 years. On what basis do we think they can now?

Until both renew themselves with a completely different and opposite outlook to what currently obtains, they are incapable of making a serious dent in the crime problem as political parties.

The Government can, however, make a dent in crime if they utilise their full governmental authority and act on the stated commitment of the new-era prime minister to change the way we do things and to create a new Jamaica. The prime minister must begin to face the reality that the Government needs help, and it is time he invites and empowers help external to his ruling party. These must be people that the prime minister and his Government can trust and who are able to bring balance and objectivity to get the job done.

Amnesty

These issues discussed are so important that we cannot afford to miss them again in 2018. If we look in the wrong places for solutions, make the wrong choices, and continue to do what has failed, our expectations will not be realised.

I suggest an amnesty period for everyone to clean up their acts, including the police, public servants and politicians. Admittedly, we have permitted a lot of things over an extended period. It could therefore be perceived as unjust to instantly start punishing what we have allowed to become a culture. So an amnesty ought to be allowed to allow those caught up in the culture of crime an opportunity to stop doing the evil and unrighteous actions that they had been doing. This is not just for the 'little man' but for the 'big man' too!

Then at the end of the amnesty and education campaign the full weight of the law must descend; using every tool, system, and method to detect and prosecute all culprits across the board. This approach must be firm, fair, and consistent in application. Citizens must believe that consequences will be sure, impartial and swift.

I am reminded of a biblical text recorded in Micah 6: 8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” This was a prophetic warning about 2,500 years ago to a country that was allowing its systems and citizens to dabble in unrighteous and criminal activities. Some 2,500 years later, it may be a clarion call to us. Will we heed it or ignore it to our peril?

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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