Can We “Unite for Change”? Yes, I think we must.

Crime is a complex thing. And that’s an understatement.

So, I understand the need for a “movement” – something that is going to turn the tide nationally while pulling together all the strands in this web. This morning, the Ministry of National Security launched such an initiative: the start, one hopes and prays, of a genuine, detailed, more thoughtful approach. The movement is called “Unite for Change.”

Minister Peter Bunting believes that violence is a public health problem, in Jamaica and elsewhere. (My photo)
Minister Peter Bunting believes that violence is a public health problem, in Jamaica and elsewhere. (My photo)

Minister Peter Bunting gave us a wide-ranging presentation – a pretty thorough overview of crime trends this year and in the previous few years. As he outlined some of the programs his Ministry has embarked on, he referred to the work of epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder/director of Cure Violence. In the same breath, he noted his own collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Ward, founder of the Violence Prevention Alliance, who works in the same field as Dr. Slutkin. Both doctors (and indeed the Minister himself) have reached the conclusion that violence is a public health crisis. The presence of public health institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control at a recent National Forum on Youth Violence in Washington, DC, which the Minister attended, underlined this point.

Dr. Elizabeth Ward, founder of the Violence Prevention Alliance, is an epidemiologist like Dr. Slutkin. (Photo: Gleaner)
Dr. Elizabeth Ward, founder of the Violence Prevention Alliance, is an epidemiologist like Dr. Slutkin. (Photo: Gleaner)

You can read more about Dr. Slutkin’s “Public health approach to public safety” at http://cureviolence.org/violence-interruption/  Dr. Slutkin sees parallels between violence and, say, a flu epidemic. There are clusters of violence in specific areas, and there are waves. The greatest indicator of a violent act is a preceding violent act. Therefore in Dr. Slutkin’s Cure Violence Model, “Interrupting Transmission” is the first step, to prevent the future spread of the “disease.” This is the goal of the Ministry’s Operation Resilience. One graph shows the level of murders per 100,000 of the population (which is the method by which homicides are measured, by the way) per parish. Disturbingly, St. James and Westmoreland are the highest, with Hanover (also in western Jamaica) not far behind. Kingston and St. Andrew, with by far the highest population density, is third on the list (the graph shown below almost omits Portland, which is on the far left. It always has much lower murder rates than the rest of the country).

There has been a third quarter spike in murders. Why? Minister Bunting attributes this to the release of a number of gang leaders from prison; an increase in murders in the course of robberies; increased trafficking in drugs (and thus in firearms); and a slight decline in police morale (police feel threatened, in some way, by the presence of organizations such as INDECOM, Jamaicans for Justice, etc). And just a quick note on the last point: Minister Bunting did emphasize later that “well-thinking” members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) “welcomed” the increased oversight of these bodies, as well as anti-corruption efforts within the force, noting that it “enhanced professionalism.”

Minister Bunting answers questions. (My photo)
Minister Bunting answers questions. (My photo)

Since its launch on October 3, Operation Resilience (targeting criminal gangs) has resulted in 426 operations, 195 arrests and 142 guns recovered. These statistics are impressive, you will agree – especially on the guns. 63 per cent of gun recovery operations were carried out without the use of deadly force (I wish this percentage was higher). Up to June of this year (as you will have figured from my weekly notations) there were an average of ninety murders per month this year; this is higher than 2012 but still lower than 2010 and 2011.

That’s on the law enforcement side. On the policy agenda, Minister Bunting said he had been working closely with Professor Anthony Clayton at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to identify ways to remove the profit from organized crime, through MOCA (which always sounds a bit like a cup of coffee to me, but actually stands for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force). MOCA includes the all-important Financial Investigations Division. Another key element is reform of the justice system (how often have we spoken about that!) The Ministry of Justice is looking at our neighbors in Colombia, who have made “dramatic headway” in this respect, especially in reducing the time of the court process. A case now takes an average of 96 days to reach court, instead of 567 days as previously.

Professor Anthony Clayton, of the Institute of Sustainable Development, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. (Photo: Gleaner)
Professor Anthony Clayton, of the Institute of Sustainable Development, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. (Photo: Gleaner)

Another element of Dr. Slutkin’s model is what he calls “identify and change the thinking of highest potential transmitters” – in other words, those high-risk groups we talk so much about. This means what we in Jamaica like to call “The Youth.”  Minister Bunting is planning a National Youth Violence Prevention Forum in January 2014. The Citizens Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) III (with funding from overseas partners) will receive US$55 million over the next four or five years to boost youth outreach, community safety and security and poverty reduction. The CSJP, operating in fifty communities, has been quite successful over the years (it was established by one of Minister Bunting’s predecessors Peter Phillips under a different administration in 2001).

Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence. (Photo: University of Illinois at Chicago/School of Public Health)
Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence. (Photo: University of Illinois at Chicago/School of Public Health)

Just to note here: I asked a question about how specifically this new movement was to operate on the ground in communities. I did not get a detailed answer of course, but had noted Minister Bunting’s earlier comment that he was “disappointed so far” by the response to his efforts to collaborate with locally-based organizations. He said he had engaged with faith-based organizations back in April, in the hopes that they would start engaging members in the anti-crime effort, community by community. He will engage the support of the government’s Social Development Commission, which is present in most communities, to save on administrative costs. But this is clearly an area to be worked on, and hopefully CSJP III will help. The Minister also hoped for greater support from the media and from the creative industries in support of “Unite for Change.”

Minister Bunting looks thoughtful. (My photo)
Minister Bunting looks thoughtful. (My photo)

Meanwhile, the Ministry is pushing forward with the legislative agenda and trying to build capacity. The Anti-Gang Bill will go to Parliament for debate by January; it seems to have got somewhat bogged down in committee but there are several obviously controversial aspects of it that are still under consideration. Minister Bunting also spoke of the DNA Bill (which seems to have been languishing for some time now), and pending amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act, the “shiprider” agreement and legislation on trafficking in persons, all to come in 2014. The government employs more ballistics experts now, and the Forensics Lab has produced 8,466 certificates as of October 31 this year. The Ministry aims to turn the Lab into an executive agency, to separate it off somehow and to even make it a separate institute at UWI, one day. Makes very good sense to me.

Jamaica is “under-policed,” as we know. There are currently 13,654 policemen and women. But the Ministry is trying to increase the police presence in communities through the creation of “portable police posts” – forty-foot containers with accommodation for four police officers, running on solar power, that can be hooked onto the back of a truck and put down in any “hot spots” not covered by regular police stations. Cool idea and it has worked well in other jurisdictions, I believe.

Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting (left), cuts the ribbon to open a mobile community security and dispute resolution centre, in March Pen, St. Catherine, on November 26. The facility is one of four for the Spanish Town communities of March Pen, Lauriston and Shelter Rock. Looking on are: Commissioner of Police, Own Ellington (right), and World Bank representative, Giorgio Valentini (centre). (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)
Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting (left), cuts the ribbon to open a mobile community security and dispute resolution center, in March Pen, St. Catherine, on November 26. The facility is one of four for the Spanish Town communities of March Pen, Lauriston and Shelter Rock. Looking on are: Commissioner of Police, Own Ellington (right), and World Bank representative, Giorgio Valentini (centre). (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Minister Bunting comes from the private sector, of course, and has been seeking their support. In Irwin, St. James, one construction firm (WIHCON) has donated a police post. Let’s hope for more of this.

There are other public relations tools that may also have some impact. Television ads and posters (one with a young schoolgirl telling her teacher that in the future “I want to be…alive!” and another with a teenage boy saying, “All I want for Christmas…is to see the next”). Let’s all remind ourselves of the toll-free number for reporting crime: 1-800-CORRUPT (267-7878). There was a flash mob at the Half Way Tree Transportation Center, where many teens gather, where the Minister “shamelessly” cashed in with a quick anti-gang message. A mobile app is under development that will enable you to report, get alerts, and even press a panic button. A group of “well-thinking” entertainers is working on a theme song for the initiative.

The mobile android app will include a panic button. (My photo)
The mobile android app will include a panic button. (My photo)

Did you know that five out of ten adolescents in Jamaica have seen a dead body, other than at a funeral? Dr. Elizabeth Ward’s research has shown this. The Peace Management Initiative reports that 86 per cent drop out of school by age fifteen (not necessarily because of bad behavior, but because of sheer poverty). At least half are fatherless; many suffer physical abuse at home; and eventually the victims become the perpetrators. The “informa fi dead” (informers must be killed) culture is alive and well in many communities. Bre’r Anancy remains one of our national icons, and misogynistic deejays remain role models for many young people. Minister Bunting showed us disturbing photographs obtained by the JCF of young gangsters posing with assault rifles. The picture looks grim, but the Ministry’s aim is to keep “putting citizens at the center.” 

Because the citizens must, always, be at the center. That means bringing them together, and getting them involved. The Jamaican people.

I look forward to hearing much more about “Unite for Change” in coming months.

Anancy the Spider might be an amusing figure in Jamaican folk stories, but he is really a conniving trickster.
Anancy the Spider might be an amusing figure in Jamaican folk stories, but he is really a conniving trickster.

P.S. I would love some of the organizations mentioned above to update their websites! The CSJP and Violence Prevention Alliance pages are way out of date. Their Facebook pages are much better, however, and should be “liked.” And I hope to see a much greater presence on Twitter from the Ministry, the JCF and other organizations. The social media can really help to boost a national movement!

Minister of Justice Mark Golding (seated, right) listens to his colleague Minister Bunting as he answers questions. (My photo)
Minister of Justice Mark Golding (seated, right) listens to his colleague as he answers questions. (My photo)
This graph shows homicides per 100,000
This graph shows homicides per 100,000 this year, as at November 30, 2013.
Clusters of violent crime in Kingston and Spanish Town (to the west).
Clusters of violent crime in Kingston and Spanish Town (to the west).

Kudos to the Ministry of National Security for:

  • Starting on time!
  • Keeping the agenda simple and without long-winded speeches
  • Allowing plenty of time for Q and A
  • Making themselves available (especially the Minister) informally afterwards
  • The orange juice! It was all thirsty work…

And special thanks to Tassia Stewart for inviting me and other social media commentators, in addition to the traditional media. Much appreciated!

Government officials gather for a chat: (l-r) National Security Minister Peter Bunting; Police Commissioner Owen Ellington; Chief of Staff/Jamaica Defence Force Major General Antony Anderson; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security  and Minister of Justice Mark Golding. (My photo)
Government officials gather for a chat: (l-r) National Security Minister Peter Bunting; Police Commissioner Owen Ellington; Chief of Staff/Jamaica Defence Force Major General Antony Anderson; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Major General Stewart Saunders; and Minister of Justice Mark Golding. (My photo)

 


8 thoughts on “Can We “Unite for Change”? Yes, I think we must.

  1. Excellent summary, and kudos on getting the invite (need to hook me up :-)). Jamaica is a country whose society reverts to violence readily to solve many disputes, so violent crime is no real surprise. However, the scale and nature of that crime has compromised many lives. I’m not sure that the JCF is so well united itself as to make these initiatives likely to succeed, but let me be optimistic. Look forward to seeing how this goes forward.

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    1. Thanks so much, Dennis. I am by nature optimistic (although I get a little gloomy on this blog sometimes!) but I agree with you that the JCF has many issues to be sorted out. I really hope that this is the start of something meaningful, and will continue to provide updates. (Not sure how to hook you up, this all happened via a Twitter friend!)

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      1. Keep pressing. I also had issues with the ‘funky’ remarks the other day by dep commish on clear up rate being not so low.

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