The com­mis­sioner and crime

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Mark Ricketts – Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln Mark Ricketts, economist, au­thor and lec­turer liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, was chief economist of the Van­cou­ver Board of Trade in Canada: deputy chair­man of the Ja­maica Stock Ex­change; and as­sis­tant ed­i­tor of the ‘Fi­nan

“No coun­try can sus­tain in idle­ness more than a small per­cent­age of its num­bers.”

CRIME AND vi­o­lence stalks the land and has driven fear into most Ja­maicans. The re­sponse is to draw on facts that at times, are un­sub­stan­ti­ated or posit quick and seem­ingly easy so­lu­tions. But deal­ing with crime is tough and com­plex, es­pe­cially in Ja­maica, where so­cial dis­or­der com­pli­cates things.

To add per­spec­tive on whether we are mak­ing any progress on com­ing to grips with what ap­pears to be an in­tractable prob­lem, I thought I would go to the head of the stream and hear what the com­mis­sioner of po­lice, Dr Carl Wil­liams, is say­ing and do­ing.

In ev­ery re­spect, Dr Wil­liams ex­udes the air of the proper gentleman: tall, erect, per­son­able, po­lite, and soft-spo­ken. A PhD in crim­i­nal jus­tice, his aca­demic un­der­pin­ning adds weight to his ob­ser­va­tions and anal­y­sis and in­duces at­ten­tive­ness on the part of lis­ten­ers.

But be­ing proper and po­lite should in no way equate with not be­ing tough and hard-nosed. In fact, the com­mis­sioner is no-non­sense, and in his 30 years in the force, he has seen and done it all – from man­ag­ing sta­tions and en­tire di­vi­sions to more cere­bral work in pur­su­ing se­ri­ous or­gan­ised crime bosses and in­ter­na­tional nar­cotics king­pins.


In a very as­sertive fash­ion, he lay down this prin­ci­ple in an in­ter­view with me: “We have to do what we do as po­lice. We are trained to out­smart the crim­i­nals so that we can stop them in their quest to carry out wrong­ful acts and harm the in­no­cent. There is no sub­sti­tute for hard, smart, polic­ing and po­lice work. We can’t re­nege on the man­date to catch the crim­i­nals, prefer­ably, be­fore they are suc­cess­ful in com­mit­ting crime.”

Res­tat­ing his po­si­tion to make, as Shake­speare said, “as­sur­ance dou­bly sure,” Dr Wil­liams re­marked: “We must find crim­i­nals who com­mit crimes, and We must take a stand in places where crimes are com­mit­ted. The mo­tives for crime ex­ist in the minds of per­sons, but mo­tives can only be ex­pressed or acted on when per­sons are given the op­por­tu­nity. The po­lice have to try to be ev­ery­where to fore­close and re­duce the op­por­tu­ni­ties, thereby pre­vent­ing crime. Where we are un­able to pre­vent crimes, we must be able to cap­ture the sus­pects speed­ily and make them ac­count for their evil deeds.That is what I and the en­tire Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force are all about.”

The con­stab­u­lary, Dr Wil­liams ar­gues, has made re­mark­able progress in fight­ing crime gen­er­ally, but it has all been over­shad­owed by high lev­els of mur­der and other forms of vi­o­lence. “The pub­lic might not be fully aware of some of our suc­cesses, but it should be noted that all ma­jor crimes, ex­cept mur­der, have been in de­cline over the last five years. We ar­rested over 700 mur­der sus­pects dur­ing the course of last year, and, in the process, cleared up over 600 mur­der cases, the largest num­ber of al­leged mur­der­ers and the high­est per­cent­age of mur­der cases cleared up in any year in the his­tory of our coun­try.

“In the past year, we also con­fis­cated over 600 il­le­gal firearms which, no doubt, would have been avail­able to con­trib­ute to even greater lev­els of gun vi­o­lence. All of this has been ac­com­plished while the lev­els of fatal shoot­ings by the po­lice have de­clined by over 50 per cent in less than two years.”

Dr Wil­liams ar­gues that one of the dif­fi­cul­ties in com­bat­ing crime has to do with the fact that we are only treat­ing the symp­toms and not the causes. He con­tends that we are more fo­cused on the of­fender than on the cir­cum­stances that led to his or her cre­ation.

“It is so much eas­ier to stop the flow of the river at the river head than in the delta just be­fore it en­ters the sea. Our ap­proach to crime fight­ing hardly takes ac­count of the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in so­cial con­di­tions at the com­mu­nity level, and as such, one set of crim­i­nals is ar­rested or killed only to be re­placed by an­other.”

To the com­mis­sioner, it is nec­es­sary for the so­ci­ety to un­der­stand that crime is a so­cial phe­nom­e­non, which stems from so­cial dys­func­tions within the so­ci­ety. The main in­sti­tu­tions of so­cial­i­sa­tion – the fam­ily, the school, the Church, and the com­mu­nity at large – have not worked as well as they did in the past to pro­duce func­tional cit­i­zens. The de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in val­ues, the de­vel­op­ment of neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes, and the coarse, ag­gres­sive and un­civil be­hav­iours have been at the heart of the vi­o­lence we ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery day. “Surely, this is not a job for the po­lice by our­selves,” Dr Wil­liams as­serts.


Us­ing a real-life ex­am­ple to un­der­score his point he makes ref­er­ence to a re­cent drive through the coun­try. “Driv­ing through a de­pressed com­mu­nity in West­more­land re­cently at mid­day or so, I saw sev­eral groups of men, young men, old men, just stand­ing, some sit­ting, look­ing out to nowhere; oth­ers un­der trees play­ing Ludo or domi­noes. There were teenage girls and other young women, preg­nant with child, car­ry­ing a baby in one arm and an­other child, knee-high, hitched to the mother’s leg. “The laugh­ter from those play­ing board games or from a few men hang­ing out out­side a bar con­trasts with the si­lence of peo­ple stand­ing or sit­ting around look­ing out to nowhere; all these peo­ple, hang­ing around idly in broad day­light. Ap­par­ently, they had no jobs or job op­por­tu­ni­ties. A few might work at night or sur­vive by re­mit­tances, but there are far­too many peo­ple idle in too many com­mu­ni­ties all over Ja­maica. “If, as the say­ing goes, the devil finds work for idle hands, then that cer­tainly ex­plains the ap­par­ent nat­u­ral grav­i­ta­tion of idle youths to gangs. With so many idle youths around, there is no short­age of re­cruits for the ap­prox­i­mately 300 gangs that are ac­tive in Ja­maica to­day.”

He em­pha­sised his im­plied ou­trage by adding that there are too many com­mu­ni­ties with stag­nant wa­ter, zinc fences, elec­tric­ity be­ing stolen, squalid and sub­hu­man con­di­tions, and anger and ag­gres­sion on edge.

“Too many built en­vi­ron­ments were not put to­gether with polic­ing in mind. There are far too many un­reg­u­lated set­tle­ments with no se­cu­rity for the res­i­dence or for the res­i­dents in­side, clearly not built to fa­cil­i­tate polic­ing. There are nar­row walk­ways on cap­tured lands and lit­tle trap doors in zinc fences (trap­pies).

“The ‘trap­pies’ and in­ter­link­ages between many of these com­mu­ni­ties means that a crim­i­nal on the run could lit­er­ally tra­verse the city from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity with­out hardly go­ing on the pub­lic road. As po­lice, we op­er­ate mostly on the roads and re­quire ac­cess to homes and neigh­bour­hoods. The nar­row laneways pose a chal­lenge to po­lice.

“This is but one of the so­cial dys­func­tions in how our so­ci­ety and the com­mu­ni­ties are struc­tured. It sup­ports the peo­ple in their op­po­si­tion to so­cial or­der in our so­ci­ety, and this man­i­fests it­self in peo­ple with a pen­chant to op­pose the rule of law; in peo­ple who subscribe to a cul­ture that is vi­o­lent, which leads, in­ex­orably, to a sub­cul­ture that wor­ships guns and be­comes bent on killing peo­ple and shed­ding blood.”

In ac­knowl­edg­ing our ter­ri­ble so­cial con­di­tions, Dr Wil­liams has to grap­ple with the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, and many times, has to call on our spe­cially trained po­lice in com­bi­na­tion with our sol­diers.

But the com­mis­sioner, in spite of ar­tic­u­lat­ing con­cerns about so­cial dys­func­tion in the so­ci­ety, is com­mit­ted, along with the en­tire po­lice force, to putting a se­ri­ous dent in crime and vi­o­lence. The sec­ond part of this twopart se­ries with the com­mis­sioner will con­tinue next week.



Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Dr Carl Wil­liams.

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