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Edge of the abyss

By Raffique Shah

 A tragic consequence of spikes in violent crimes such as we experienced in the first week of 2014, is the baying of the hounds, the blood-curdling cries for revenge that are as transient as the surges are cyclical. As soon as the murder rate settles back to what is normal for us, meaning one-a-day, the society will shift into the muted mode. People will hardly note the killing, and the police and government will enjoy a respite from outrage...until the next surge.

Note well how we handle these mini-crises that have root causes so deep, they require well thought out strategies, most of which are medium to long term, if we hope to ever deal with them comprehensively.

The Prime Minister summons an emergency meeting of the National Security Council and demands performance and results. The public can assume, therefore, that as blood flowed, the security overlords were sitting on their butts feasting on Christmas goodies and imbibing the spirits of the season. So the PM had to rouse them from their gastronomic reveries: hey, fellas, there’s a murder spree out there.

Bear in mind these men have been members of the NSC, hence the persons responsible for securing the nation, for making citizens feel safe, for at least three years. They are not novices thrown into the deep in the midst of a crisis.

The National Security Minister proffers a cocktail of gun-talk, bombast and self-flagellation, suggesting that what we are witnessing is the darkness before dawn. I suppose we should all happily hum, “The sun now rising up....” 

The Police Commissioner chides the media for focussing on murders instead of a decline in fatal accidents, which he credits to improved police performance. Yeah, right. And the impotent Police Service Commission complains that because of a convoluted system it cannot appoint a CoP, a deficiency that the public is probably praising, since a confirmed joker as commissioner might well make matters worse, not better.

You think it easy in this town? People are afraid to step outside their homes day or night, children unable to enjoy the joys of childhood, riding their bikes in safe neighbourhoods, screaming and playing in parks or on the streets. Older folks, easy targets for petty criminals, imprison themselves behind bars and burglar alarms. And women? Except for the free pass they enjoy during Carnival, they might be better off living in Kabul.

I have no doubt that this surge in violent crimes will subside. It always does. In fact, while I do not have the data to support this, my recollection is that except for a spike in robberies as bandits engage in fund-raising for fetes, there is a decline in crime, especially murder, over the Carnival season. The police attribute this to heightened security. Bull, I say. Even criminals take time out to enjoy themselves in the season of gay abandon.

Last week, I offered some crime-fighting measures, none of them new, impractical or prohibitively expensive, that ought to have been implemented for some time now. Readers have responded, adding to my suggestions, or noting flaws in them.

One security expert pointed out that our first-response mechanisms, such as they are, are seriously flawed. He noted that the emergency medical teams seem geared to “collect corpses”, not save lives. “By saving lives, you might secure witnesses who can identify the assailants, hence enhance the detection and arrests rates,” he said. Makes sense.

He also queried the usefulness of the new Rapid Response Unit and even existing mobile police patrols. “How often do we see motorists committing serious traffic violations as police patrols casually cruise the highways, ignoring the infractions?” Too often, I would say, based on personal experience. And, he added, the police seem to have flooded town centres with foot patrols that focus on minor violations—parking, defective lights, seat belts—while suspicious persons speed past them in vehicles that quite possibly contain firearms, illegal drugs and maybe even the odd victim or corpse locked in the trunk.

Someone else observed that while the state is tardy in installing comprehensive CCTV systems, large numbers of residential and business properties have them. They often capture images of crimes being committed, but the police never follow through. Indeed, I have seen a few video clips featuring “live killings” posted on the Internet. I do not know that the identifiable murderers were arrested and charged.

When the current outrage simmers down as the murder rate drops, what then? Wait for the next round to cry unholy murder, to re-mobilise the NSC and the security forces? We cannot continue running around in circles, hopelessly trying to scratch our rear ends with our mouths as dogs do. 

We need to harness all our resources, mobilise all citizens to rescue the nation from falling into the abyss of a “failed state”, over which it is precariously poised. 

Government alone cannot do it—nor can the security forces. But first, we must establish mutual trust among all stakeholders, which seems to be the missing link. We’d better find it—fast. 

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