At­tack the emer­gency with emer­gency

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY -

LIKE PETER Bunt­ing, the shadow se­cu­rity min­is­ter, this news­pa­per is deeply con­cerned about the sharply up­ward spi­ral in homicides in Ja­maica this year, es­pe­cially in the parish of St James where the brazen­ness of the blood­let­ting ex­ac­er­bates fore­bod­ing and fear among cit­i­zens.

For, at the cur­rent tra­jec­tory, mur­ders in 2016 will sur­pass last year’s in­crease of 20 per cent to nearly 1,500 cases, re­turn­ing the na­tional homi­cide rate to over 50 per 100,000, head­ing to where we were six years ago be­fore the state of the emer­gency, the Tivoli Gar­dens op­er­a­tions and the three-year, cu­mu­la­tive onethird de­cline in homicides. Or, as Mr Bunt­ing oth­er­wise char­ac­terised the state of af­fairs, “this is an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion”.

Here, how­ever, we urge cau­tion on Mr Bunt­ing as well as sug­gest to him that the mon­ster that Ja­maica now faces has to be con­fronted on sev­eral fronts si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Fur­ther, as tempt­ing as it may be, this is not a cir­cum­stance in which to nee­dle or gloat, al­though that is not a be­hav­iour of which we ac­cuse Mr Bunt­ing.

Hav­ing held the na­tional se­cu­rity port­fo­lio for four years, Mr Bunt­ing would ap­pre­ci­ate the an­i­ma­tion of a min­is­ter is no barom­e­ter of the suc­cess in that, or any other, min­is­te­rial port­fo­lio. In­deed, the min­is­ter is not, by law, ex­pected to be the front-line po­lice of­fi­cer. His job is to for­mu­late broad pol­icy, whose ex­e­cu­tion is the job of the var­i­ous op­er­a­tional units, in­clud­ing the con­stab­u­lary. The min­is­ter, of course, then holds his sub­or­di­nates, the po­lice chief in­cluded, ac­count­able for per­for­mance.

It is our sense that this is the ap­proach favoured by Mr Bunt­ing and one which he sought to adopt dur­ing his ten­ure as the se­cu­rity min­is­ter. He of­ten talked about Ja­maica’s crime prob­lem in epi­demi­o­log­i­cal terms, re­quir­ing sev­eral and var­ied in­ter­ven­tions. He had, we be­lieve, poli­cies and strategies for­mu­lated for im­ple­men­ta­tion, which, where still rel­e­vant and ap­pli­ca­ble, ought to be em­braced by his suc­ces­sor Robert Mon­tague.


We would pre­fer Mr Mon­tague spend time por­ing over the plans and poli­cies left by Mr Bunt­ing and work­ing with his ad­vis­ers to de­ter­mine what should be fol­lowed through on, rather than giv­ing hectoring ad­vi­sories to po­lice­men about the use of con­doms or time spent in fam­ily court, as was his wont in the ear­lier months on the job.

We agree with Mr Bunt­ing on the need for stake­hold­ers meet­ing on crime, but not for the nar­row pur­pose, as he sug­gests, of deal­ing with the cur­rent emer­gency. Those talks, in­stead, should fo­cus sub­stan­tially on build­ing con­sen­sus on the broader is­sues of cit­i­zen se­cu­rity and pub­lic safety, as framed by Michael Lee-Chin’s Eco­nomic Growth Com­mit­tee, and how their pro­posed ini­tia­tives are to be funded.

But even as we pur­sue these mat­ters, there re­mains that “huge chal­lenge in St James” that has driven fear into peo­ple and threat­ens com­merce in a ma­jor tourism cor­ri­dor. A first step to re­vers­ing the cri­sis is cau­ter­is­ing it. We in­sist that a state of emer­gency, ap­pro­pri­ately mon­i­tored by civil-so­ci­ety groups, will, as hap­pened in 2010, pro­vide the se­cu­rity forces with the psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tage that dis­ori­ents the crim­i­nals.

Fear of a po­ten­tially neg­a­tive ef­fect of a lim­ited state of emer­gency on the tourist in­dus­try is ex­ag­ger­ated. Peo­ple abroad are aware of the ex­ist­ing cri­sis. As it is now, there is a dan­ger of death by a thou­sand cuts.

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