Sat | Feb 16, 2019

Peter Espeut | No quick-fire cure for crime

Published:Friday | June 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Over the last 30 years, in seeking to stem the free flow of murders and gang activity across the island, successive national security ministers have shuffled the deck of familiar strategies to try to find the winning formula.

Every year during the Sectoral Debate, I listen for the incumbent national security minister to name some new police squad with some horrific name intended to drive terror into murderers and criminals, or some new gun amnesty, or some new anti-crime bill. A few young black men are scraped up, and a few rusty guns are turned in, but there has been no real change.

And I listen for some new strategy to reduce murders by agents of the state - some new police body to police the police. I thought INDECOM would have done the trick, despite strong resistance from our murderous police force (what else could you expect?), but then it turns out that our lawmakers - intentionally or otherwise - created INDECOM without giving them the power to really do anything. 'Straw basket to carry water', if you ask me!

Last year, there was something new - zones of special operations (ZOSOs) - with the three-pronged approach: clear, hold and build. The clear and the hold were not really new; that is your basic cordon and search, or curfew. The new element is the build, which seeks to employ various social interventions to convert crime-ridden communities filled with unemployable and hopeless youth into neighbourhoods of opportunity and expectation for honest progress and prosperity.




I wrote then that this was certainly a step in the right direction, but that the skills needed to first plan and then implement the build were not resident in the Ministry of National Security; it would take a team of sociologists, anthropologists, and social psychologists to assess the particular problems in each ZOSO, and then another team of human and community development scientists to design and implement the interventions.

The clear and hold were expensive in terms of police personnel power and materiel, in short supply at the best of times, which would limit the number of ZOSOs that could be in place at any one time. And then the build phase will be really expensive, and might take a decade or two to have a lasting impact. Could we keep the army and police in place in the ZOSO for the years it would take for the build phase to take effect? And where would the required army of social and development scientists come from? I was not optimistic about the success with this new strategy.

And then government voices have declared the ZOSOs a success because crime has been reduced, even when the serious part is in its infancy.




And so I read carefully the contribution Horace Chang made in the 2018 Sectoral Debate.

What he announced did not surprise me. He did not say that his ministry would continue with the ZOSO approach; what he said was that his ministry would introduce "targeted social intervention initiatives ... in our 20 most vulnerable and volatile communities". They really cannot manage any more clear and hold, but they are going to invest in the build.

The Ministry of National Security is now in the business of community development. "Mr Speaker, music, sports and technology will be one of the ministry's new strategic thrusts for targeted social intervention activities within vulnerable communities. Effective youth engagement from a crime-prevention perspective involves relevant activities that can positively change antisocial behaviours. Music, sports and technology have proven to mould and shape the social exchanges and mindsets of our Jamaican youth."

But get this: He expects other ministries to actually do the targeted social interventions in the 20 volatile communities he selects. Is it in their budget?

And then he plans to change the name of the JCF to the Jamaica Police Service, and weed out the corrupt cops! More next week.

- Peter Espeut is a development scientist. Email feedback to