Politics and the ongoing 'war' on crime in the Caribbean

By Selwyn Ryan

Trinidad Express 11/20/11
This is an excerpt from a paper presented at Miami Book Fair International on Wednesday.
The political and economic problems currently being faced by Caribbean countries are extremely worrying. Even in Barbados, which is generally seen as a model nation. The only exception is Trinidad and Tobago, which is not as fiscally challenged as the others. The CLICO problem is, however, strangling the Trinidad economy and the truth is that nobody seems to know for sure what Trinidad's true economic position really is. The information seems to be a closely guarded secret. The political Opposition is alleging that it is just a matter of time before the Government becomes bankrupt because the Government was on a borrowing spree. In the meantime, there are problems in the energy sector. The price of oil is high, but production levels have dropped drastically. What is earned from our sales of LNG is trending upward, but competition with shale-based gas produced in the US is increasing.
Notwithstanding the serious nature of the region's economic problems, those posed by narco traffickers and gangs of young black males entrenched in the "garrisons" of Kingston, Laventille, and other so-called hot spots, are doing great damage to the well-being of the region. The Caribbean in general and Jamaica and Trinidad in particular have come to be known as the murder capitals of the world. Rates of gun-, gang- and drug-related crime are embarrassingly high.
Both Jamaica and Trinidad recently declared States of Emergency. St Lucia almost did, but was concerned about the likely negative impact of doing so on its tourist-based economy. Jamaica declared a State of Emergency in May 2010 to deal with the threat to its integrity as a sovereign state. As many as 73 people were killed during the confrontation between the police and criminal elements based in Tivoli Gardens. Six of those killed were members of the security services.
In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was also imposed in August 2011. No lives were lost, but considerable damage was done to the economy, especially in the service sector. Several small and medium-sized firms were negatively affected. In both cases, many young black males were arrested and charged by the police authorities.
There is, at present, much debate in both countries as to whether the State of Emergency has made any sustainable impact on the crime statistics. The security establishment in Jamaica believes the State of Emergency has destabilised the gangs and rates of homicide have dropped significantly. The police and the politicians have claimed the gangs are on the run and the sacrifices made were worthwhile. The homicide rate has dropped by 30 to 40 per cent and is continuing to trend downward.
The Commissioner of Police recently declared "victory". As he boasted, "You will observe the dramatic change in the crime and security environment when certain criminal actors meet their demise or are removed from the streets... Matthews Lane is a changed place without Donald Zeeks Phipps; the entire downtown Kingston is changing for the better after decades following the removal of actors such as Puggu of South Side, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, his brother, Leighton (Livity) Coke of Kingston West, Rooxie of Rose Town, Machine Man of South St Andrew, Donovan 'Bulbie' Bennet and Tesha Miller of Spanish Town, Orane Baldie of Newlands , Eldon Calvert and Doggie, Montego Bay, Joel Andem and lately 'Dog Paw', and several others."
Gang leaders with colourful names are being targeted with all deliberate force. Lawyers and specialists are also being recruited to assist the police in building cases against the "dirty dozens". The resources of the police and intelligence community are also being strategically enhanced. As the Commissioner declared, "Let us not let up the pressure on the criminals and allow them to creep back into our communities."
Most Jamaicans seem to believe Jamaica has turned a corner and the State of Emergency was the "tipping point".
One view holds that the gangsters have come to respect the firepower which was on display during the State of Emergency. They also believe the gangsters have come to believe that if President "Dudus" could be vanquished, their own chances of survival were less than good.
The Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) also seems to be taking corruption within its ranks very seriously. Sixty-four people were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) of the JCF between January and September 2011 for breaches of the Corruption Prevention Act. Forty were policemen. Sixty-two policemen were also not permitted to re-enlist, while another seven were dismissed. The ACB Commissioner, who incidentally is an Irishman, boasted that "the efforts of the constabulary to cleanse the force were not falling on deaf ears".
We note that Jamaica now hires policemen on contract. Their performance is reviewed at the end of five years. If they are proven to be unsuitable after probation, they may be fired without reference to the Police Service Commission.
Trinidad and Tobago is also stepping up its "War" against the criminal elements. It introduced a draconian anti-gang law which however proved to be ineffective because of flaws in the legislation and forensic missteps of the police. Most of the young men who were arrested and charged had to be released, and are suing the State for wrongful arrest. Interestingly, the DPP, the official responsible for deciding whether the State would prosecute those charged, felt the need to advise the police that before making arrests, they should ensure certain steps were taken to ensure likely conviction.
The police were advised that they should closely study gang dynamics and group criminal behaviour, develop gang databases, employ informants, effect cooperation rather than competition among law-enforcement agencies and ensure there is preparation by law-enforcement agencies before cases are brought before magistrates. The DPP complained that the police were overzealous in the actions they took, with the result that of the 463 people who were arrested for various offences, some 236 people had to be set free because there was a lack of evidence or no evidence against them. The homicide rate, however, dropped by 66 per cent.
The Police Service has pledged to improve its crime-fighting capability and, like the JDF, has expressed its determination to ensure there is no return to the levels of crime that led it to declare a State of Emergency. As a police spokesperson promised, "We will never go back to the lawlessness experienced in the pre-State of Emergency period. Various gangs have been dismantled and police have gained a great deal of intelligence on gang activity."
Unlike Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago has fiscal resources and the Prime Minister has pledged to create 20,000 jobs costing some TT$300 million to help alleviate joblessness. The programme is titled Reclaiming our Youth; Embracing our Future. Ironically, it is the Opposition People's National Movement which has come out against the programme, which is being dismissed as a "quick fix" and a "handout".
Time will tell whether the programme would have any positive and sustained impact on the at-risk communities, or whether it would lead to discord and new turf wars. However the initiative turns out, it is clearly an attempt to maintain the crime reduction momentum generated by the State of Emergency and the curfew, as Jamaica is also trying to do. Much is at stake politically. Parties in both countries have staked their fortunes on the sustained outcome of this epic war. The former prime minister, Patrick Manning, who is vainly hoping to be returned to power, has argued that the State of Emergency has had no visible impact on crime. In his view, the Government has played its last card and has no option but to call fresh general elections. The new Jamaican Prime Minister also seems to be benefitting from the upswing.
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