Shoot up bud­get to shoot down crime

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Mark Rick­etts is an econ­o­mist, author, and lec­turer liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and rck­ttsmrk@ya­hoo.com.

AS I lis­tened to the prime min­is­ter in his press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 1 tele­graph­ing to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing crim­i­nals, where the first zone of spe­cial oper­a­tions was, I re­called my out­rage in speeches and col­umns when the Gov­ern­ment, in April, had not in­creased bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions to the na­tional se­cu­rity sec­tor.

I am con­vinced that the pain and hor­ror of more than 1,000 mur­ders so far this year has not re­ally seized the so­ci­ety, ex­cept for those di­rectly af­fected by it. The ter­ri­fy­ing part is that many peo­ple are be­ing shot, even in broad day­light, and the gun­men, seem­ingly un­nerved, just walk away or dart into a wait­ing car – an­other day on the job.

Au­gust fig­ures show that its 168 mur­ders were the high­est since the state of emer­gency in May 2010 amid the hunt for Christo­pher ‘Dudus’ Coke. While peo­ple are aghast at the level of crime and vi­o­lence, they seem un­cer­tain as to whether more money should be put into the na­tional se­cu­rity sec­tor, or in so­cial in­ter­ven­tion, given the sig­nif­i­cant dys­func­tion.

Mur­ders jumped by 11 per cent in 2016. When the Gov­ern­ment tabled its Bud­get in April this year, one would have ex­pected size­able in­creases in al­lo­ca­tions to law en­force­ment and the crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­min­is­tra­tion. That did not hap­pen.

WRONG FO­CUS

With no bud­get in­crease at a time when crime was clearly out of con­trol, the head­lines and top sto­ries in the me­dia should have ze­roed in on Gov­ern­ment’s misplaced fund­ing pri­or­i­ties.

Mur­ders, so far this year, have jumped 24.1 per cent over the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod last year and the Gov­ern­ment is try­ing to play catch-up with new leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives, new pol­icy pro­pos­als, such as cash for guns, and tough anti-crime speeches. How­ever, in the ab­sence of ad­e­quate fund­ing, it is an up­hill task.

In a town hall meet­ing in St Ann re­cently, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Robert Mon­tague said, “We’re not go­ing to al­low th­ese crim­i­nals to dic­tate how we live and how we go about our daily lives.” Then on Septem­ber 1, the PM de­clared the first zone of spe­cial oper­a­tions in Mount Salem, St James. How­ever, there has been con­fu­sion about the ac­cu­racy of the crime data jus­ti­fy­ing go­ing into Mt Salem, where a pur­ported 54 mur­ders in the area is now down to seven.

As a so­ci­ety, we want the scourge of crime be­hind us, but seem ambivalent as to what must be sac­ri­ficed to give the high­est pri­or­ity to the na­tional se­cu­rity sec­tor.

Cap­tur­ing the essence of this co­nun­drum, Paula Llewellyn, the di­rec­tor of pub­lic prose­cu­tions, said it best: “We are reap­ing the ben­e­fits of what we have sown be­cause suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have treated the jus­tice sys­tem like Cin­derella, with­out any hope of ever find­ing a prince.”

DECADES OF NE­GLECT

Of­fer­ing an ex­pla­na­tion for con­tin­ued in­creases in the back­log of cases at the end of each term the DPP at­trib­uted this to “decades of ne­glect of the ju­di­cial sys­tem by suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions and the wors­en­ing crime rate”.

Mak­ing spe­cific ref­er­ence to the Home Cir­cuit Court, Llewellyn points out that “Over the last 30 years, we’ve had a tripling of the crime rate and the in­take of cases into the sys­tem, made even worse by the Com­mit­tal Pro­ceed­ings Act, which was in­tro­duced last year to help speed up the dis­posal of cases by abol­ish­ing pre­lim­i­nary en­quiries, yet we still have the same four court­rooms.”

That’s a pity. With any sus­tain­able crime-re­duc­tion strat­egy, there must be ef­fec­tive polic­ing, and that is de­pen­dent on an ef­fi­cient crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem that guar­an­tees timely tri­als, pun­ish­ment for those de­serv­ing it, and the pro­tec­tion of the in­no­cent.

A par­tic­u­lar con­tra­dic­tion in fight­ing crime is that ev­ery­one has a plethora of so­lu­tions for com­bat­ing crime but some­how they de­tach them­selves from iden­ti­fy­ing fund­ing sources, such as bud­get in­creases for the se­cu­rity sec­tor.

A let­ter writer, Paul Mc­Far­lane, in re­sponse to an ear­lier col­umn of mine on crime, pointed out that crime was a con­di­tion or a set of con­di­tions that must have causative fac­tors, and that Ja­maica must ad­dress them.

Cit­ing a re­view of the em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence in the pro­fes­sional lit­er­a­ture, Mc­Far­lane of­fered the fol­low­ing:

Over the last 50 years, the rise in vi­o­lent crime par­al­lels the rise in fam­i­lies aban­doned by fathers.

High-crime neigh­bour­hoods are char­ac­terised by the mar­ginal role played by many fathers in the home.

Ag­gres­sion and hos­til­ity demon­strated by a fu­ture crim­i­nal is of­ten fore­shad­owed in un­usual ag­gres­sive­ness as early as age five or six.

There is ob­vi­ously merit in all th­ese ideas and in an ac­knowl­edge­ment that there has to be an om­nibus ap­proach to se­ri­ous crime re­duc­tion. How­ever, this should not let us lose sight of the im­por­tance of new-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies and tools for the po­lice, much bet­ter re­mu­ner­a­tion and con­di­tions of the work­place for the na­tional se­cu­rity sec­tor, and a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of re­lated re­sources for the jus­tice sys­tem in or­der to cut the crime rate.

Tough talk and the in­tro­duc­tion of spe­cial oper­a­tions zones, which is a slightly more so­phis­ti­cated ver­sion of amnesty, stop and searches, and cur­fews, are re­ally penny-pinch­ing ways for Gov­ern­ment to avoid pri­ori­tis­ing, with se­ri­ous fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion, the na­tional se­cu­rity sec­tor.

If the Au­gust mur­der fig­ures can’t con­vince the Gov­ern­ment and the nation that “time come!”, as Por­tia Simp­son Miller once said, I don’t know what will!

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