The triggers, blunders, and way forwardSunday, September 26, 2021
This week we are going to do a crash course in analysing murder statistics. So, for today, you are all criminal justice practitioners.
Many look at and bemoan our murder statistics. Politicians, the press and the people all want fewer homicides. Full stop. It does not even matter if it is primarily killers killing killers. All that matters is we want a decrease. This does not make us myopic, it makes us human.
However, as academics in the field we must look deeper. We have to look at rates of increase. By that I mean the percentage increase in homicides over a given period.
This is important because it shows where we are going, rather than where we are now. It also invites realism into the process.
Can we expect a reduction year to year when we are increasing at accelerated percentages every half decade?
The neglect of this aspect of analysis has resulted in terrible steps taken by various governments at various times.
So let us start analysing. Between 1988 and 1992, our homicides increased by 52 per cent – from 414 to 629. It would have been logical to assume that the same may occur from 1993 to 1997, using a five-year period of calculation. It would then follow that our resources would be utilised for the prevention of murders going forward.
However, what we did was appoint Colonel Trevor McMillian as police commissioner. He had a great track record in fighting corruption. He was a good man, a brave man, but inexperienced in homicide prevention and police work in general.
He then, in keeping with his mandate, declared war on the crime-fighting icons of the police force.
The Government did not stop there. They repealed the Suppression of Crime Act in 1994. This draconian law, as bad as it was, still served as a tool to fight the gangs.
The result of that repeal was a 59 per cent (from 654 to 1,038) increase in homicides in the five-year period 1993 to 1997.
The five-year period 1998 to 2002 experienced a 10 per cent increase in crime. We went from 953 to 1,045 murders. This was a significant improvement from the 59 per cent increase in the aforementioned period.
Did we celebrate? No. We criticised and crucified. Why? Because all we want is a reduction in homicides.
What we missed, again, is the importance of the rate of increase and how to slow it, which we did between 1998 and 2002.
So, what was the applied formula? What was different? What slowed the rate that had dogged us in the former decade? You will not like the answer!
The years 1998 to 2002 was the Adams era. This symbol of strength and opposition to the gangs of Jamaica inspired not just other police officers, but also the populace to stand up to the gangs our politicians had created many years before.
From 2003 to 2007, Jamaica experienced a 62 per cent increase (976 to 1,584) in murders. This from a 10 per cent increase in the previous period. Why?
Well Adams had been destroyed and was relatively inactive during this period. The public no longer had this icon and the police force saw what was awaiting them if they actively fought crime. It is that simple.
From 2008 to 2012, there was a 32 per cent (1,619 to 1,102) decrease in homicides.
This, you may note, was the only time the increase changed to a decrease.
Why? The Tivoli incursion took out Jamaica's most notorious gang.
Also, the armed forces' use of guns and bombs had a residual effect on the gangs.
Over 70 gunmen were killed. The truth is just the truth. Nobody wants a mortar landing on their dinner table. Gangs eat food too.
From 2013 to 2017, murders increased by 37 per cent (1,202 to 1,647). Why is this? Well, during a significant part of this period the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) had the power to arrest the police officers like common chain grabbers.
This, coupled with a very negative public relations campaign, resulted in a demotivated police force and a feeling that the gangs were the secondary enemy of the State.
It was a different time and a different INDECOM. The removal of the power of arrest and a change in the public relations policy has made it an organisation that is accepted by the armed forces.
It was previously viewed as an arm of the criminal rights organisations and foreign governments.
During 2018 to 2020, the rate of increase slowed to three per cent (1,287 to 1,323). This is because INDECOM no longer had the power of arrest and the police force is not being marketed by anyone as enemy of the State.
Are we celebrating now? No, we are not. All we care about is a decrease, whilst we ignore the rate of increase.
Had the 37 per cent increase from 2013 to 2017 continued, we would be staring at a 2,000 per year murder tally.
The slowing of this rate is a major accomplishment of the police high command and needs to be treated as such. We have an incredible mix of talents leading the force, to include experts in criminal investigations, police operations, law, military and academia — all at the highest level.
This group needs recognition for what it has achieved.
We ignore the rate of increase at our peril.
What have we learnt? Well, at the very least we should have learnt that a police force under attack is unlikely to perform. Also, we should see that emergency laws that appear severe exist for a reason.
Most importantly though, I think we have learnt that the gangs are watching and waiting for us to fight among ourselves. This way, they move the police boot from their throat so that they may place their boot squarely on yours.
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