Caricom leaders have come and gone, and crime has remained a front-burner issue. Perhaps a special session of Caricom leaders was necessary if only to improve existing mechanisms for information sharing and joint action. Time will tell if any lasting good came of last week’s meetings. It would have been extremely unrealistic to expect that any collection of the regional leadership would somehow have advanced the fight against crime. If Caricom could make no headway in addressing Haiti’s gang wars and violence, how was it going to address the rise of violent crime across the region?
Immediately preceding the symposium was the report that nine police officers from the Eastern Division were arrested by members of the Professional Standards Bureau over allegations of misbehaviour in public office, more specifically for running an extortion racket. Even as the meeting ended, the murder toll spiked with five murders in 12 hours with continued calls for a crime plan, the resumption of hanging, and an increase in firearm licences. This Saturday’s headlines reported that another community, Valsayn, had installed a new community security system to keep criminals out.
These three disparate events are connected. They demonstrate that the crime situation is fluid and the criminal element undeterred and more agile than the state security apparatus. As the State institutions seem to weaken, communities with the means will take action to protect themselves creating further divisions.
It could be argued that the Caricom symposium amounted to nothing more than a distraction that set the wrong tone by laying blame at the feet of many institutions rather than accepting responsibility for failed government policies and actions. Caribbean Court of Justice Judge Justice Wit correctly pointed out that the Caribbean justice system needs an overhaul not a change of judges. That observation is true of many state institutions. These cannot be fixed by citizens, parents, or religious bodies. They require the collective intervention of the political directorate to create a reform agenda and take decisive action.
Commenting on the Anti-Gang legislation in 2017 then attorney general Faris Al-Rawi noted that there were 211 gangs and 2,459 known gang members, more than double the amount estimated in 2011. What actions have been taken to address that situation, and what was the nature of those interventions? What were the results and what is the current position?
The point is that actions cannot be reactive. If the problem was defined in 2017, then actions ought to have been designed to address the problem. Change is normal and unless the Government and its institutional apparatus address those changes, then it will be left behind as rising crime clearly demonstrates that it is being left behind.
The key takeaway from last week’s symposium was that big grand events cannot solve our crime problem. The crime problem is a result of many factors which took years to reach this point. Reversing the situation requires a holistic approach at many levels to address the many factors contributing to breeding criminals. The Government has all the mechanisms necessary to address these factors. What is clear is that it has not adopted an integrated approach to focus its considerable resources on the problem. That requires coordination, leadership, coordination and agility, skill sets that can only be provided by the political directorate.