Monday, July 13, 2015

JCF needs allies to fight crime

Observer column for MON 13 JULY 2015
By Jean Lowrie-Chin

I can almost sympathise with Police Commissioner Carl Williams for his faux pas, giving himself a perfect score even in the face of rising crime.  The members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force continue to be some of the hardest working, most disciplined Jamaicans, with multiple occupational hazards.  Why should they get all the blame? They do not create crime, and they acknowledge their task to fight it.  Only last week the brilliant Deputy Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant called to discuss a programme for at-risk youth in Westmoreland, as she works to save them from gang recruitment. 
Folks are always surprised when I mention to them that the Jamaican youth club with the largest membership in the Police Youth Club.  Indeed, the much-admired Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor who I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier in his career, said it was his membership in the Police Youth Club that sparked his interest in joining the JCF. 
Community policing is important, but the more we blame the police for crime, the more we give other responsible parties a 'bly' for not playing their part in helping Jamaica to higher standards of security.
Let us look at the Church.  Yes, some denominations are doing their part – building and running colleges and schools, feeding the poor, caring for and housing the most vulnerable among us.  Unfortunately, others are promoting the "Sunday Christian" way of life: there are pastors who cannot be found between church services, and church members who are shamed if they do not cough up large offerings.  Credible, dynamic leaders of faith-based organisations have been making a profound difference in the lives of their church members, and can help to influence their less energetic colleagues to be on the ground in their communities, emulating the Jesus they so love to proclaim from decorated pulpits.
Then there are our political representatives.  Again we have some hardworking leaders, but there are others who need to take time out from their internal power struggles to advocate for their suffering constituents, just begging for a few more hours of attention.  Elected representatives have the strongest links to the ministries, government agencies and parish councils that are mandated to carry out the country's business.  They can demand better service for our people and the media would be glad to assist in such advocacy.  I am also encouraged by continued activities of the PNP YO and JLP's G2K – kudos to young politicians like Ian Telfer and Floyd Green who seem to have a real interest in their country's development. 
We cannot exclude the private sector.  The larger companies are doing more than their fair share, but small and medium enterprises should know that they also have a responsibility to their communities.  In fact, it is enlightened self-interest; the more you do for the folks in your neighbourhood, the better the environment for your business to thrive. 
Thank goodness for our robust civil society groups.  We are glad to hear that Jamaicans for Justice are sorting out their tax liabilities, as such organisations help to keep us honest.  Kudos also to Jamaica Environment Trust, Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity, Stand Up For Jamaica, and Hear the Children Cry. 
One recent criticism I heard about the recruitment process at the JCF, is that there seems to be a bias towards applicants with university degrees and that these recruits are more office-bound than on the beat.  If this is so, surely that must affect our crime-fighting approach.
With the help of Jamaica's churches, political representatives, private sector and civil society, we can make the urgent changes needed to help Commissioner Williams achieve a better crime-fighting score.  It cannot be the sole responsibility of the police.
Poor prison conditions
Nationwide Radio carried a series of interviews recently on prison conditions.  An innocent woman I know spent time in jail some years ago, because she was framed by cruel in-laws, so let us not be so judgmental of prisoners that we pay them scant attention.
The late Motty Perkins brought us the agony of 21-year-old Agana Barrett, who died in an overcrowded Constant Spring lock-up in 1992.  Carla Gulotta of Stand up for Jamaica explained to George Davis and Kalilah Enriquez that many of the changes needed in our prisons do not require money, but rather a change in attitude.  Indeed, if there were a system in place to ensure that prisoners are put to work, our prisons could become sustainable, and those who have completed their sentences would emerge with new skills, better able to reintegrate themselves as productive citizens.
Food for the Poor has two programmes that have gone a far way in helping those who have fallen on the wrong side of the law.  They have the traditional Easter and Christmas prison release programme where they pay fines for non-violent prisoners, and through their stories we have come to realise how thin the line can be between freedom and incarceration.  They also have a re-integration programme which assists ex-prisoners to get back on their feet.  We haven't heard from him for a while, but we should never forget the efforts of Dr Raymoth Notice, who advocated for such programmes.
The balm of sports
What joy to see "World Boss" Chris Gayle, score the century for Jamaica Tallawahs last Thursday at Sabina Park, leading them to victory over the Trinidad Red Steels.  Cricket has come a long way since I watched it with one of its most avid fans, my Dad.  He probably would have culture shock at the bright coloured outfits and the noise level, but this Hero CPL T20 has brought much excitement and interest to the game.  We are amused to see Dad's aftershave Limacol, now rebranded and hyped.
Then on Wednesday in their first match for the CONCACAF Gold, our Reggae Boyz tied with the strong Costa Rica team, thanks to goals from Garath McCleary and Jobi McAnuff. As we go to press, they are gearing to meet Canada.
The tenacious president of the Jamaica Netball Association Marva Bernard achieved her fundraising goal to take our Sunshine Girls to the Netball World Cup in Australia next month, and we have high hopes for the team, captained by Nicole Aiken-Pinnock.  They copped the bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, after defeating England 2-1, to place behind Australia and New Zealand.
Jamaica is also participating in the PanAm Games happening now in Toronto, and we send best wishes to our first ever BMX competitor Maliek Byndloss and his coach, Jonathan Gosse of the Oracabessa Foundation.
Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce continues to live up to expectations, Asafa Powell is signaling a comeback and we are confident that Usain Bolt will be as good as new and ready for all-comers as he regains full fitness.  Thank goodness for sports – opening doors for thousands and helping us all to keep our sanity!
Jean Lowrie-Chin

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