Nor­mal­is­ing high-crime Ja­maican neigh­bour­hoods

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

JA­MAICA HAS never had a co­her­ent strat­egy for deal­ing with the un­der­ly­ing causes of crime and vi­o­lence, which in­clude bro­ken fam­i­lies and so­cial de­cay; ne­glected and abused chil­dren, with early ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence; bad hous­ing, poor ed­u­ca­tion and lim­ited job op­por­tu­ni­ties; the ero­sion of moral au­thor­ity by en­trenched sys­tems of po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age, links be­tween pol­i­tics and or­gan­ised crime, and the main­te­nance of gang-dom­i­nated gar­ri­son com­mu­ni­ties and in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

Any one of th­ese would be a dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve, but to­gether they form a deep­rooted, tan­gled web that has con­founded ev­ery at­tempt to find a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion. At least a quar­ter of our pop­u­la­tion live on cap­tured land, al­most one-third of the pop­u­la­tion steals their elec­tric­ity, while al­most two-thirds of the water sup­plied by the Na­tional Water Com­mis­sion is lost or stolen, which means that many chil­dren are raised in house­holds where theft is nor­mal.

Many mem­bers of th­ese com­mu­ni­ties no longer see non-pay­ment as theft, but as a means to sur­vival or as a form of wel­fare. The era of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age and pro­tec­tion for crim­i­nal­ity made th­ese prob­lems much worse, be­cause some politi­cians sab­o­taged at­tempts to re­store law and order in their con­stituen­cies, and the high rates of crime that en­sued now form a very ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent to busi­ness de­vel­op­ment.


None of th­ese in­ter­lock­ing so­cial, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural prob­lems can be solved in iso­la­tion. It will re­quire a co­her­ent strat­egy and the courage to im­ple­ment it, re­gard­less of short-term po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences.

How­ever, other coun­tries have had sim­i­lar prob­lems, and in some cases are now solv­ing them. In Brazil, for ex­am­ple, the homi­cide rate among young men reached 53.6 per 100,000, which made Brazil one of the most vi­o­lent coun­tries in the world. Most of this vi­o­lence was con­cen­trated in the fave­las, the gang-dom­i­nated in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

The City of Rio de Janeiro had al­most a quar­ter of its pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in a thou­sand sep­a­rate fave­las; so nearly 1.5 mil­lion res­i­dents were liv­ing with­out proper roads or san­i­ta­tion in gang-dom­i­nated ar­eas that only re­ceived rough, para­mil­i­tary polic­ing.

All of this is now chang­ing. The gov­er­nor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Fer­nando Pezão, de­vel­oped a pro­gramme to re­store law, order and progress in ev­ery favela. First, para­mil­i­tary po­lice with army sup­port would go into the cho­sen favela in over­whelm­ing num­bers. They would an­nounce their ar­rival days in ad­vance, so that gang mem­bers had time to flee (this avoided shoot-outs in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas). The paramil­i­taries would stay while new po­lice posts were built in the favela, then hand over to the ‘Paci­fy­ing Po­lice’. Paci­fy­ing of­fi­cers are spe­cially trained in com­mu­nity polic­ing, and they make a com­mit­ment to stay in the favela un­til it is a de­cent, law-abid­ing neigh­bour­hood.

Af­ter that, the city main­te­nance crews would go in: fix the roads, give ev­ery street a name and ev­ery house a num­ber, and put in proper elec­tri­cal and water sup­plies. Fi­nally, the State would give tax breaks for ev­ery busi­ness that set up op­er­a­tions in the favela.

This com­bi­na­tion has been re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful. In the first fave­las to be nor­malised, the gangs have gone, the crime rate has fallen dra­mat­i­cally, in­vest­ment is flow­ing in, busi­nesses are thriv­ing, in­comes and prop­erty val­ues are ris­ing, un­em­ploy­ment has fallen, and the peo­ple sup­port the po­lice rather than the crim­i­nals. The homi­cide rate in Rio de Janeiro halved be­tween 2005 and 2012, while the homi­cide rate in the rest of Brazil was ris­ing rapidly.

And the vot­ing pat­tern changed; the com­mu­ni­ties no longer voted the way that the gangs told them to.

So there is a good model for Ja­maica to fol­low. All we need is politi­cians with the courage to im­ple­ment sim­i­lar so­lu­tions here.

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