Friday, February 23, 2018

Winning the battle on crime


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The year 2012 ended with 383 murders, give or take a few. This is a vast improvement over the 2010 figure of 473, although it is 40 homicides more than 2011. But the 2011 murder total was made artificially low by the three-month-long State of Emergency which curtailed criminal activity, whereas the comparison between 2010 and 2012 shows a genuine reduction. While more sexual offences and kidnappings were reported last year, overall there has been an apparent ten per cent reduction in serious crimes. So now the question is, what are the authorities going to do to keep this trend going?

The answer to a large extent depends on understanding what caused the steep rise in the first place. From a low of 93 homicides in 1999, the murder rate started rising in 2000, crossing the 300 mark in 2005. In 2008, murders peaked at 548, and then started dropping. Various hypotheses have been put forward to explain the increase, from gang leaders getting State funding through the Unemployment Relief Programme, hence creating turf wars; to drug cartels making payments to local agents in guns as well as money, hence making rivalry more murderous; to the removal of drug barons such as Dole Chadee and the King brothers, which intensified competition among smaller gangs.

Unfortunately, the authorities under the last administration and the present one have not seen fit to conduct rigorous analyses on the root causes of the crime problem. Instead, they have been content to create policy according to received wisdom, meaning that assumptions about drug trafficking, unemployment, and even self-esteem have informed the measures being implemented. Since no scientific protocols are in place, however, it is impossible to know which measures are having an apparent positive effect, or if indeed any can account for the 20 per cent drop in homicides between 2010 and 2012.

Additionally, many people would be sceptical about the statistics presented by the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA) of the Police Service. For reasons unexplained, CAPA last year stopped presenting monthly figures on the TTPS website, which would have allowed citizens to do their own analyses. Nor has any distinction been made between actual drops in crime and drops in reports to the police, which could have created an illusion of fewer serious crimes. And National Security Minister Jack Warner's penchant for unsubstantiated and self-contradictory statements has further reduced public trust in respect to crime data.

Nonetheless, there does appear to be cautious grounds for optimism. So this is no time to rest on laurels; instead, the authorities must now double their crime-fighting efforts. Hopefully, 2013 will then see even steeper reductions so citizens can finally start to feel secure in their land.