Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Gordon Robinson | It’s a crime to not fix crime

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It has been several months since I've written on crime. It's deliberate. I wanted to give the Government (and a legion of myopic public 'analysts') time to prove me wrong. I sincerely wanted to be wrong when I asserted, categorically, that there is NO SHORT-TERM SOLUTION to Jamaica's crime problem. NONE! My prediction was that it could take as long as half a generation to bring Jamaica's crime monster under control and then only if certain unpopular but necessary NEW policies were introduced.

Shuffling the same old cards is likely to produce the same results in crime prevention as did name-shuffling in education when Common Entrance went to GSAT, and more recently, is headed towards PEP.

One half of a generation may seem a long time. But, as the inscrutable will tell you, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Until you take that step, the trip remains the same. The difference between that unfathomable trek and Jamaica's voyage to effective crime reduction is that every day, we postpone that first step; every day, we prefer bluster, bombast, and buffoonery to brainpower; every day, we stay in our comfort zone and try to strong-arm violent crime; every day, we fight fire with fire, our journey actually increases.

So, when the first ZOSO was announced on September 1, I gave the ZOSO plan four months to achieve any semblance of short-term success and, hopefully, leave me with egg on my face. And the thing about ZOSO was that I actually liked it as a plan. It was genuinely new and different and took a cerebral rather than a brute-force-and-ignorance approach to the problem.

What was wrong with the ZOSO plan, however, was that it failed to take into account or implement a single one of my published conditions precedent to any crime plan, however brilliant in conception, being effective.

On January 22, 2017 ('If you really want to solve crime') and again, on April 23, 2017 ('Crime dog chasing tail'), I repeated that the only viable crime solutions were to:

"1. Properly equip the JCF. ... Close superfluous ministries and divert funds, if necessary.

2. Separate every corrupt cop from the JCF. ... Abolish the army and convert it into a new, competent, honest police force.

3. Disarm the citizenry (politicians included) and disband the Firearm Licensing Authority. Why's an 82-year-old JP carrying a gun? Does he INTEND to arm criminals?

4. Fundamentally reform education, including a swift review and dismantling of the teaching-by-rote system. Create police liaisons in schools ... ."

Instead, the first ZOSO was undermined by an intemperate, inadvisable, premature announcement by a Cabinet member not even directly involved. Since the world knew the first ZOSO would likely be in St James or Clarendon, the initiative was scuppered before it began, as my sources tell me gunmen took the low road away from known hotspots and operated elsewhere in both parishes with apparently unfettered glee. Then, on the day, it's reported that a significant number of assigned police officers failed to show, leaving the JDF to man the ZOSO without the needed complement of police and without police powers. Still, the initiative has resulted in modest successes within the two ZOSOs currently in force, leaving us to wonder how much better it would have fared with a properly equipped and de-corrupted JCF.

The call to disarm the citizenry until we have crime under control and clean systems to permit such a privilege for non-law enforcement professionals has been pooh-poohed, while we pursue the same-old, same-old in the hope of a different result. Stories of Wild West-type shootouts between miscreant(s) and licensed firearm holders that end in the eradication of an occasional miscreant used to defend citizens' need to be armed actually prove the opposite.

Because our policemen so frequently ignore this truism, we're tricked into believing the punishment for attempted robbery (or even attempted murder) is death, hence the unseemly public celebration whenever a would-be robber or gunman is cut down by a licensed firearm holder. This isn't just a wrong response to attempted crime, but it further inculcates a culture of violence in our people that ensures increased, not reduced, violent crime.

Also, for every such story (becoming more and more obscure by the day), there are multiple stories of licensed firearm holders being cut down in their cars or at their homes with their firearms' availability an illusion, as the murderer relieves them of same after their untimely demise. For every such Wild West story, there are two involving licensed firearm holders' children damaging or even killing themselves 'playing' with a parent's firearm unknown to the parent.

These arguments are made without the need to refer to corruption by public officials, but the real problem lies in that direction, as citizens' desire to own firearms has birthed and nurtured a system of the most evil corruption, some of which was recently uncovered at the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), to which Robert 'Uncle' Montague responded by replacing some members of the board. Really? Seriously? Does Uncle believe he solved the problem?

Recently, a cache of 119 guns was found in Miami consigned to a named Jamaican, but to date, nobody has been charged with any offence. How did whoever was responsible plan to get these guns to their ultimate destination? How were they going to escape customs detection? How were they to be intercepted before arriving at the named consignee, who must be assumed innocent of any offence and who hasn't even been charged with one?

Is there a problem with the importation of guns and ammunition, generally? How do we know that legal shipments of ammunition for licensed firearms don't include 'brawta' for delivery to criminals? How are the contents of such shipments verified? Is the ammunition counted?

What's the process for certifying that a citizen is fit and proper to hold a firearm licence? I had to run a gauntlet to obtain my driver's licence, but I'm unaware of any similar system prior to the obtaining of a firearm licence. The following was published on Twitter a few days ago:

"Jan Voordouw @JanVoordouw

A #bullet fired last night in the air returned to earth, traversed our roof and hit our bed (we were not sleeping as yet) ... #Kingston #Jamaica".

It didn't end there:

"Ked @kedz_s

Ked retweeted Jan Voordouw. Ked added:

"The fact that several replies were from people who experienced similar incidents really bothers me."

This can't continue. Parties on the Palisadoes strip disabling the airport, while policemen revel at the party and hustlers extort frustrated plane ticket holders for passage, can't continue. Reacting AFTER the event won't cut it. Used cars for the police wasn't what I meant by properly equipping the force. Rebranding is a joke. This JCF needs an Augean Stables approach. NOW!

We better understand that we will NOT address this issue by weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth. We MUST be prepared to give up some things we like without having to give up a single legal right. Jamaicans, unlike Americans, have no right to bear arms. THIS is an illusory comfort we can give up in the fight against crime. One of the things we need assurance about is that only professional law-enforcement personnel are carrying guns legally; that they are trained to use those firearms professionally; and that anyone else seen with a gun ANYWHERE, including at a New Year's Day party, goes directly to jail without passing 'GO' or collecting a dollar!

As at June 10, 2017, Jamaica's murder rate was 19 per cent more than the same period in 2016. By October 15, the increase over 2016 had become 26 per cent. Jamaica recorded 1,616 murders in 2017 (up 25 per cent from 1,350 in 2016), of which 335, or 21 per cent, of all murders in Jamaica were in St James (population 180,000; 122 murders as of June 10; 235 at October 15).

In 2017, New York City (population 8.5 million) reported 290 murders. In 2016, St James reported 269 murders, making the 2017 year-over-year increase 26 per cent (335 homicides). Between October 15 and December 31 (first ZOSO declared September 1), St James recorded 100 murders, which converts to an annual rate of 480. Since the start of 2018, murders are exceeding an annualised rate of 2,000.

Folks, ZOSO ain't working. We've wasted another year trying quick fixes. It's broke(n). When will we begin to begin to fix it?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to