States of Public Emergency in Jamaica: For or against, what to do now?

I wrote recently for Global Voices about the imposition of States of Public Emergency (SOPEs) in no less than seven police divisions across the island on November 14, in light of a tremendous spike in our murder rate.

Well, the SOPEs will end this weekend, after just two weeks. After hours of debate, the Upper House today voted against an extension of the measures, after the Lower House had voted for them to continue until February 10, 2022. The Senate did not get a two-thirds majority needed to extend the SOPEs.

So, what next?

In the press release just issued below, the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica is expressing its qualified support for SOPEs. This very much reflects my own view. Here is what they have to say:

Jamaica is in the top five murder rate globally and the violent deaths of over 1,000 Jamaicans annually has almost been normalised.

The country has been facing a crime epidemic for over 20 years. During that time, we have not approached violent crime prevention and reduction in a comprehensive and holistic manner. Hence, we have placed the burden on the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to focus on violent crime reduction, to clean up where society and good governance has not delivered.

Sustainable Reduction in Crime: The only way to reduce violent crime in a sustainable manner is through a holistic plan of education, social transformation, reformation of the JCF, justice and penal reform. All these pillars, with the exception of education, are included in the National Consensus on Crime, to which the Government and the Opposition are both signatories and are actively being pursued. The PSOJ believes that in the same way that Jamaica has approached economic crisis situations with a singular focus such as the IMF agreements of 2013-2019, these pillars require the same high level of prioritisation and bi-partisan commitment. Until we can achieve significant progress in these areas, violent crimes will remain at emergency and crisis levels.

States of Public Emergency (SOPEs) are Stop-Gap Measures: The PSOJ supports the use of SOPEs as an interim measure to achieve: 1. Reduction of the murder rate in the communities which have rates in excess of the national average of 46.5 per 100,000 people. 2. A semblance of peace for the citizens who reside in the seven (7) designated areas. 3. An opportunity for the JCF and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to step up their investigative and operational activity inside of these communities.
Based on these factors, the PSOJ supports the recommendation made by the high command of the Security Forces to implement SOPEs.  

Social Programmes and Legislation: While we accept the SOPEs as an interim measure, we are absolutely clear that if Jamaica’s social Programmes and education, which we have spent over $1.3 trillion on in the last decade, had the desired impact, there would be no need for SOPEs.

Legislation: The legislative framework must be comprehensively updated for the crime epidemic that Jamaica currently faces.
The critical legislative views and drafting that remain outstanding are as follows: 1. The Firearms Act 2. The Bail Act 3. Unexplained Wealth 4. The Road Traffic Regulations 5. Amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act 6. Amendments to the Corrections Act. The above legislation will ensure that consequences for lawlessness are in place and will present a significant deterrence to crime.

Prioritisation Required: We implore the GOJ and all stakeholders to prioritise the mentioned legislation and social transformation. It is strongly believed that these actions will go to the root of our violent crime problem and should lead to a sustainable reduction in shooting and homicide levels.

Jamaican police patrol a community affected by a state of emergency on May 27, 2010. Photo by the BBC World Service on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

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