Facing up to the crime challenge
In promising a reduction rate of 50 per cent for violent crime within the next three years, Finance Minister Larry Howai made a bold prediction way outside his ambit. Such an end is devoutly to be wished, but it will be up to National Security Minister Jack Warner to explain how he will use the $5,503.7 million allocation to his Ministry to accomplish this.
Mr Howai described crime reduction as "an important pre-condition for economic growth" and, presumably speaking as a mouth-piece for national security officials, identified three broad strategies: "strong law enforcement; sustained social interventions, especially for at-risk youth; and strengthening of the criminal justice system".
But there is nothing new here. These approaches, in various forms, have been tried over the past decade, to futile effect. More than two years into its tenure, the People's Partnership has used the strongest of strong-arm approaches with last year's State of Emergency but, ten months after, the murder rate remains as fatally high as ever. Mr Howai claimed that "The joint army/police patrols deployed in hotspots have demonstrated the efficacy of strong, well-targeted law enforcement measures" and announced that this initiative would continue. The second and third strategies, of social interventions and a better criminal justice system, are not attainable within the three year time frame. And the improvements in the criminal justice system listed by Mr Howai — support for victims of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, strengthening of non-governmental organisations and training for prisons officers — are more after-the-fact than preventative measures.
It is therefore only the first strategy which is a short-term measure, and this depends heavily on a constant police and army presence. And, even if it works for the crime hotspots, the likely effect will be the migration of criminals to other parts of the country. Indeed, this has already happened, so Mr Howai's boast that there hadn't been any murders in Laventille for 22 days overlooks the fact that the country's two-a-day homicide average hasn't dropped.
The synopsis presented in the budget relies heavily on the tried and tired approach of flinging money at crime. More technology, more personnel, and more money for police officers are key elements of this old strategy. Will it work this time? Every law-abiding citizen must hope so, and perhaps in the Budget debate more details will emerge to show how this will happen.
The unprecedented thing which Mr Howai has done is put clear benchmarks: a murder rate of 15 per 100,000 persons (or less) by 2015. And, if these plans are effective, citizens should start to see results by the next budget. If not, then this administration, like the previous one, would only have demonstrated that it is part of the crime problem.