Rethinking Solving Crime — Part 1

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In an article written by me and published in this paper last week, I discussed the need for us to commit to building a just society in 2017, starting with making justice a priority this year. Had we, from the outset, remained committed to building a just society, as was the dream of our founding fathers, we would not be in the current dilemma.

The leaders of the 70s and 80s dropped the ball and allowed alien concepts, power, selfishness, and greed to creep in with all the attendant problems. Since then, we have not had the strength, tenacity and courageous political leadership to arrest the negative trends and decisively set the nation back on track to fulfil the vision outlined by our founders. It is to be seen whether the current leadership has the toughness of will, strength of character, and faith in God to do it. Are they humble enough to ask for the help, even outside of their ranks and across the aisle, to assemble the kind of team and advisors able to develop the new Jamaica? It is not as difficult as it may appear. This nation can turn around in short order if we know how and will work together. I do believe in miracles, and I am committed to that process.

Let’s consider the #1 problem of crime. Crime is not as difficult to curtail as it appears. Everything appears difficult when you don’t know how. We have been stuck in a repeating cycle in our approach to crime for at least the last 30 years. We dedicate an ever-increasing budget to national security; we increase the number of police and we change commissioners and ministers in a revolving door pattern. None of these actions have had any lasting or even perceivable effect on the crime rate. Instead, what we have seen is a pretty much steady increase in crime, particularly murder, over the last four decades.

We must get our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that what we have been doing has not worked. Despite this, there is yet again a fiery debate currently on in some quarters concerning calls for the resignation of the minister and for more money to be pumped into the national security apparatus. This is nothing more than a return to the tried and proven failure model. What I am hearing loudly is, “Let’s try the failure model again, as it never fails.”

Are we ready for radical action and interventions that would actually make a difference? Let’s consider a historical precedent. Chicago, in the late 1920s, was known for its illegal liquor businesses and organised crime that produced enough money to keep important police contacts on its payroll; gang related violence, especially murder, and a seeming inability to do anything about it. The Chicago Police Department was notoriously corrupt and one man, Al Capone, the mobster, the don, appeared to have more influence or control than the mayor or any other elected official. Sound familiar? But he was brought down. How? By the work of a small group — 11 to be exact — of Federal officers who were carefully chosen and who could not be bribed or corrupted. Hence the moniker, The Untouchables.

Could it be that, in Jamaica, one of the chief problems we have is not that the constabulary is too small, but rather that we need a group of fearless and incorruptible officers who will pursue with skill and commitment even the most established and dangerous of criminal organisations and players?

We have been told by the police that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 men who make up the gangs in Jamaica, and who are responsible for a large percentage of all crimes including murder, shootings lottery scamming and robberies. If this is so, how is it that a combined security force of nearly 14,000 trained members is incapable of apprehending and bringing to justice these untrained 4,000? Instead, the entire country is being told that all three million of us need to have our rights curtailed in order to deal with the problem of crime. There is something missing in our approach.

I dare say we need a police department that engenders public trust. Currently, there is such a low level of trust in the constabulary that it is impossible for the organisation to be effective. This major agent of the State — that should have a most profound effect on crime reduction, seeing increased apprehension of criminals and solving cases — is perceived by citizens, and particularly by inner-city communities, as the main perpetrators of felt injustice, abuse and harassment. There is an ingrained hostility toward the police that negatively affects law and order. The police are not perceived to be friends, servants or protectors of the people. This image must be changed and quickly. Let us be honest, this view of the police is not without justification, as the evidence abounds of improper conduct by lawmen. This may or may not be the majority of our police personnel, but it is enough to tip the scale in the negative direction.

Effecting change

To create the change, there are three things I am strongly suggesting, which can be done immediately:

1. We must change the name from police force to police service, or one with a similar connotation. ‘Force’ suggests — and is still being acted out — an old concept that it exists not as servants of the people, but rather defenders of the ruling class against the peasantry.

2. Change the police training to focus on changing mindset and behaviour to reflect the spirit of the name change being suggested — service to the people and not lords or oppressors of the people.

3. Change the top leadership to personnel with a whole different mindset and culture to what now obtains: Personnel who are convicted and convinced that policing is a service to the people would be treated with maximum respect at all times. It is unlikely that the leadership being described here can be found within the existing system, as the negative culture is so entrenched. Given that the structure of the organisation is an authoritarian top-down one, the institution will reflect the quality outlook of the leadership — It cannot be better than the leadership. Has this been the historical problem?

If we want real and effective change, the top-teir leadership has to come from outside the existing structure. Rapid change would most likely require not just a new outside commissioner, but also a radical change in thinking of the second-tier leadership or new personnel who can be at one with new top leadership thinking to bring about a culture shift that is absolutely necessary to create a better and just society.

The best deal, if we could afford it, would be to disband the existing force, rehire all who fit the desired profile, and recruit new people for the remaining positions. With the financial constraints in doing that, the next best option is the wide scale introduction of new outside personnel at the senior levels, with the strength to drill down. Perhaps the $2.7 billion or $5 billion increase in the national security budget would be better spent on redundancy payments than on anything else.

Is the Government bold and courageous enough to take these radical but necessary steps toward real and lasting change?

In part 2 of this article I will explore other critical elements in the ongoing failure to adequately address the issue of crime.

Copyright © 2017 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.


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