Police Investigators process a crime scene in St.James

Jamaica has the dubious honour of being named the most murderous country in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is according to the 2020 Homicide Round-Up published on Friday, January 29, 2021 by InSight Crime. Jamaica recorded 1,301 homicides in 2020, producing the highest homicide rate of 46.5 per 100,000 people. This beat Venezuela by a hair’s breadth under one percentage point. Venezuela recorded a homicide rate of 45.6, with Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico rounding out the list of the top five most murderous countries in the region. Honduras recorded a rate of 37.6, Trinidad and Tobago recorded 28.2 and Mexico recorded 27.

The report specifically mentioned that the United Nations classifies any homicide rate of 10 per 100,000 people or greater to be an “epidemic” of homicides. The 1,301 murders recorded in 2020 represented a marginal decline from the 1,339 recorded in 2019. The downward trend in murders seen in 2020 did not continue in the first quarter of 2021. Instead, the trend experienced a reverse, and murders were trending upwards during that period.

Throughout the month of January 2021, Jamaica recorded 113 murders. Several of these murders were particularly grisly, including the recent shooting death of Andrea Lowe-Garwood during a church service in Falmouth. Hot on the heels of this murder, an upsurge of gang related violence in Kingston occurred, with the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) mobilizing its fleet of buses for emergency evacuation of citizens in that area. Moreover, a brazen shootout occurred in downtown Kingston wherein a trio of gunmen engaged police officers in a shootout along a busy thoroughfare on Trafalgar Road.

The explosive burst of violence that occurred during the first quarter of 2021 has since cooled in the second quarter. According to statistics published on the website for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), crime has experienced an almost uniform decline when comparing statistics from January 1 to May 29, 2021 with the corresponding period in 2020. Murders, shootings, rapes, robberies, and break-ins all experienced a decline.

Murders decreased by 1.1% to 551, down from 551 last year. Shootings decreased marginally by 0.4% to 507, down from 509 last year. Rapes decreased by 41.9% to 150 in 2021, compared to 258 last year. Robberies declined by 21.3% to 358, down from 455 last year. Break-ins also declined to 353, down by 22.8% from the 457 recorded in 2020.

Unfortunately, while the statistics demonstrably show that crime has decreased from the corresponding period in 2020, the situation is still quite untenable. The marked improvements in the crime statistics are commendable, but when the population demographics are considered, these statistics are nonetheless quite alarming.

Jamaica is in a crucible. Crime runs rampant and bloodletting continues unabated while the nation’s leaders scramble to devise a strategy to combat crime. As it stands, this wave of crime cannot be allowed to continue unabated. Serious intervention frameworks need to be devised to mitigate the present crime wave and thereafter address the systemic issues that perpetuate crime in this island nation.

The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has quite a momentous burden to tackle in terms of solving crime. A five-pillar strategy was proposed in 2017. These five pillars entail effective policing, swift and sure justice, social development, situational crime prevention and reduced reoffending. Unfortunately, the tangible implementation of these pillars leaves much to be desired.

The only pillar that has yielded significant dividends has been the situational crime prevention, notably using Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) and Enhanced Security Measures (ESM). While the onset of the pandemic has had deleterious impacts on crime prevention, the efforts leading up to the pandemic suggested poor awareness of how to navigate the sociocultural demographics that required tailored strategies.

The key issues the GOJ must address to make strides in eliminating crime are the high murder rate, gangs, garrison communities, domestic violence, violence against children, inadequate institutional capacity, high percentage of youth/male involvement in criminality and low level of trust in the security forces. Consequently, the intervention strategies most appropriate for Jamaica necessitate emphasis on the young, unattached youth and on volatile communities while eradicating corruption and providing opportunities for upward social mobility.

To that end, I have proposed a three-pillar plan with solutions across multiple sectors to help address the specter of crime. This three-pillar plan focuses on community development, reformation and modernization of the law enforcement services and improvement of the department of correctional services. The pillars are enumerated below.

The solution to crime is contingent on a multi-faceted approach, requiring collaborative effort among key stakeholders on a national level. First, the GOJ should make efforts to ensure communities have strengthened capacity to create a safer society. To do so, the GOJ should improve the implementation of targeted community interventions such as the social intervention aspect of ZOSO.
This entails implementing holistic programmes focusing on prevention and suppression of youth involvement in crime, promoting awareness and care for vulnerable groups, strengthening community groups and councils, and developing programmes to mobilize societal support for safer communities. Finally, conformity is pivotal and there should be serious efforts to improve community conformity to legal requirements.

While community development is a tall task, an even taller task is reformation and modernization of the law enforcement system. The GOJ should implement effective management frameworks that are aligned with modern models of policing. Tangentially related to the third pillar of the GOJ’s five-pillar plan is also reformation of the justice system, specifically in the creation of a comprehensive human resources development system to ensure professionalism within law enforcement agencies.

Moreover, the GOJ should develop a holistic approach to the welfare of law enforcement officers. This relates to the HR system previously mentioned and requires frameworks for ensuring accountability within law enforcement agencies. While INDECOM does an admirable job therein, there must be more done in this regard.

Most importantly, the GOJ should ensure that the anti-crime capability of law-enforcement agencies is strengthened. Accessibility of policing services should be improved. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and corresponding infrastructure should be integrated to enhance operations. Community policing in the more volatile communities island-wide should be implemented and law enforcement agencies should be adequately equipped to deliver a timely response.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is an integral actor in the penal system. Therefore, to efficaciously ensure that crime is addressed, the GOJ should most definitely act to strengthen the management, rehabilitation, and of course the eventual reintegration of those who are subject to the DCS.

First, the GOJ should expand the framework for rehabilitation of inmates and offenders. The recidivism rate – which is the tendency for offenders to reoffend after release – is troubling in Jamaica. Therefore, the GOJ should emulate the example of Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway, in strengthening the framework for rehabilitation of inmates and offenders.

Moreover, the GOJ should act to strengthen the institutional capacity of the DCS and its partners to ensure that the aforementioned objective is accomplished. This entails greater budgetary allocation for improvement of penal facilities where possible and establishment of more humane conditions rather than the present overcrowding and poor sanitation that exists.

The GOJ should explore suitable alternatives to incarceration for offenders who are mentally ill, at least where such alternatives are appropriate. Housing mentally unsound individuals with non-mentally ill inmates has had catastrophic effects and will continue to do so. Finally, the GOJ should develop an appropriate framework for human resource development within the DCS.

Rashaun Stewart