Jamaica is really an amazing place. Over the last week, while we have all recognized the need to get economic and social development going, and in a week when we are expecting the Finance Minister to tell us how he will finance the fiscal expenditure, we have been bombarded with discussions of toilet paper, markets, and divine intervention.
These are important issues, and correctly are discussed by the media. But what we really need is a society where when these matters come up they are dealt with immediately, so that we have an agreeable solution.
A distressed looking storeowner in front of her ransacked store on Red Hills Road, during unrest in the nation’s capital after an extradition request was made for convicted crime lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in May 2010.
The issues surrounding the need for divine intervention, however is a very important one. Crime robs us of an estimated four percent of GDP, or approximately $60 billion, and in doing so inhibits a lot of the productive capacity and competitiveness of the country. For example, the main reason for the high cost of agricultural production in Jamaica seems to be Praedial larceny.
It is therefore very important to deal with the crime monster, as if we are unable to do so then it means that anything else we do to attempt to make the economy, and society, better, will amount to futility.
So why have we not been able to deal with this crime problem. I have some views, which are by no means based on any expertise in crime fighting, but a logical approach to problem solving.
Let me first say that I think that the police force, under Commissioner Ellington, has done quite a lot to help bring back some amount of confidence in the police force, but still has a long way to go. Especially when they keep reversing some of the progress with actions that cause disruption in community relations.
In order for us to get a handle on crime, the first thing we must do is understand that we cannot sustainably solve the problem if we do not have a disciplined and orderly society. In other words it is difficult to create order within an environment of disorder. So if the parents in a household carry on with unethical behaviour in front of their children, then more than likely the children will act out what they see rather than what they are told.
So it is always going to be difficult to solve crime if we do not deal with the indiscipline on the roads, the violations of the noise abatement act and the zoning laws, and the littering of the roads. These are simple things to deal with but unless we address them then it will be like expecting someone to emerge from a mud lake without any mud on them.
A second point is that justice must be swift and low cost. If we are serious about taming the crime monster, we cannot have a situation where the police make an arrest, carries someone to court, and the case takes five years to complete. We also cannot have a situation where jurors go to court and don't even get lunch money, or transportation costs, reimbursed. And then if they do not turn up they get in trouble with the law. Imagine being asked to preside over the life or death of an accused, and you can't concentrate because you are hungry, or thinking about how you are going to get home.
The police needs to treat all crimes as equally violations of the law and act speedily in all cases. So when someone reports domestic violence or Praedial larceny, it is important for the police to treat all those cases as urgent. Don't wait until the petty thief, or the domestic violence accused, graduate to more serious crimes to act. In other words, if you do not act decisively when a young child tries to always get their own way, then you will have to deal with a bigger problem when they are older and may have to apply even more stringent measures.
The law also needs to be applied equally to everyone. And in this case I am not talking just about the person with connections, but also when we give someone leeway because you think they are among less fortunate. So the sentiment is normally to give the small man a chance. Soon you find out that you have a reason for giving everyone a chance and eventually corruption flourishes.
It is also very important that before any charges are brought against someone, or any accusations are made public, that proper investigation takes place before. There have been many cases of people being charged, or accused, of wrong doing which either proves false, or lacks sufficient evidence. This negatively affects the credibility of law enforcement.
The recent example of the traffic ticket amnesty is an illustration.
The last point, but by no means least, is that the enforcers of laws, such as the police, cannot be seen to disobey it. It is very important, that the credibility and authority of those persons in charge of enforcing the rules are intact.
So if we are to solve the crime problem, we cannot just focus on the outcome (such as murders). But we must of necessity, address the root causes of the problem, of which the main one would be a disciplined and orderly society.