Is the allegedly widespread anti-informer mindset (described as “all pervasive” by the Director of Public Prosecutions some months ago) really the main factor in Jamaica’s inability to tackle our endless wave of crime and violence? Here is an article by Jaevion Nelson, a young human rights and development practitioner who writes a weekly column in the Jamaica Gleaner. Follow him on Twitter at @jaevionn.
This is an edited version of Mr. Nelson’s article published in the Jamaica Gleaner on Thursday, June 4, 2015.
It’s time we stop blaming the ‘informer fi dead’ culture for our ineptitude in effective crime fighting strategies, in ensuring this is a ‘safe, cohesive and justice’ country. Are crimes spiralling out of control because so many of us have subscribed to the ‘informer fi dead’ culture? Is it because the police lack the wherewithal –not necessarily more vehicles, weapons and officers – to solve crimes? Is it because the criminal justice system is laden with challenges – case backlogs, insufficient court rooms and financial resources, etc – which prevent us from effectively prosecuting criminals?
I am not suggesting that the idea that an ‘informer fi dead’ has no bearing on our inability to arrest and prosecute persons who have committed crimes. Yes, that is indeed a factor but our quandary, I believe, is much more than simply that.
Why is it that although 78 per cent of Jamaicans believe crime is a major problem and 48.4 per cent of us fear becoming a victim (Citizen Security Survey, UNDP) we aren’t providing the police with necessary information? Yet 52.9 per cent of say the police deserve our support?
We ought to be mindful that people also do not report because they have little faith that the authorities will secure justice for victims – especially when he/she is poor, they don’t believe that they will have full protection under the Witness Protection Programme, they don’t want to be obligated to go to court until god knows when, and, of course, some believe informers eventually die at the hand of the offender, among other things. Then there is a host of issues that the anti-gang law, in my opinion, cannot sufficiently address when the offender is family—a family member you depend on for survival.
A multiplicity of factors compound the problem and result in the impunity many criminal offenders enjoy. It’s interesting that dancehall (read Vybz Kartel), single parent families (read female headed homes) and cultural erasure where the village raise the child are cited as major problems more often than structural ones.
The Citizen and Security Survey published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveals – perhaps not surprisingly – that the police is evaluated very poorly by citizens for how they address crimes nationally. It is also common that you hear people having more trust and faith in soldiers than police.
The reasons people are hesitant or refuse to make reports to the police about crimes perpetrated against them or they have witnessed are much more complex than the ‘informer fi dead’ culture. How can we reasonably expect people to report crimes and provide information to a police force that fall below the regional averages for how they deal with citizens in the following areas (regional averages in brackets): respect for the law – 13.9% (21.8%), respect for citizens rights – 15% (20.7%), fairness in dealing with people – 12.6% (17.8%), courtesy to ordinary people – 12.1% (17.1%), respect for the rights of people who are accused of crimes – 9.6% (15.4%), and treating people equally – 8.9% (13.7%).
According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), arrests are only made for 45 per cent of homicides annually and only 7 per cent of perpetrators are convicted. To make matters worse, 36.3 per cent of Jamaicans believe our judges are corrupt, 57.3% believe the justice system is corrupt, 52.7% believe powerful criminals go free, and 57.8% believe politically connected criminals go free (UNDP).
There are of course a number of initiatives including justice reform, community policing and enforcement of the use of force policy, that are being employed by the various entities such as the Ministry of National Security and the police itself to address these and others matters.
The police must be commended for the work they do despite the imminent threat to their lives every day. They can’t do it on their own; they need our help and we need our leaders to address some of the problems. We shouldn’t have to wait a long while for critical bills like the DNA legislation to become law.
If 52.9% of people believe the police deserve their support then the ‘informer fi dead’ culture is clearly just one part of the problem which inhibits the police’s ability to solve crimes and keep us save. One hopes that critical endeavours to address these systematic challenges will enjoy bipartisan support at the highest levels and will be major talking points in upcoming elections. We have to focus our efforts rebuilding confidence and trust in the police and criminal justice system. Justice reform cannot be a slow one. Poor people must have greater access. Justice must be sure for each and every one of us.