Reducing serious crime means adopting a COVID-19 strategy in some Caribbean islands.`

BY R.D. Miller

Finding the right balance

Part I-

COVID-19 has caused an economic crisis, with job losses, business closures, and restrictions. It highlighted structural inequities in the medical system preparedness and access to affordable healthcare.

Following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spill onto the coast of the Caribbean Islands. It included similar waves of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety we have seen elsewhere. Daily and weekly news conferences and outreach have proven to be key in reducing the risk of communicable diseases, including death rates and new infections.

This pandemic underscored the tension between political party leaders, local communities, the science and safety of front-line staff. Like many other places, in which the tourist industry plays a central role in the local economy, it is a delicate balance. From the security of local business to curfew, and long-term sustainability.

It equally served as the basis for the next local election campaign. Each side accused the other of the nation’s shortcomings from preparedness; economic loss, resources present to cope with the pandemic. Furthermore; what party is better equipped to manage the crisis.

However, behind the cameras; doctors and nurses work tirelessly to combat this lethal disease in these challenging conditions. The approach has been successful and local leaders applauded by international organizations for their initial efforts.

But determining exactly how deadly the new coronavirus will be, how many people are infected, and the actual number of deaths and infections, that remains is a key question facing epidemiologists and local communities especially in poor and developing countries.

Though the Personal Protective Equipment [PPE’s], the awareness, curfews, and lock-downs were effective; reports have shown an increase in multiple shootings, robbery’s, thefts, assaults, and murders and an increase in gang activities.

These stories are not an extra strain of the virus, and equally needed a national conference such as COVID-19 strategies. And while local law enforcement cannot attribute the uptick in violent deaths that exceeding the pandemic, it serves as another public health crisis.

The answers many of these communities will seek for years are, they may understand that the Coronavirus crime wave threatens the economy, but between economic downturns from the pandemic and the increases in crime rates, which one do you hold accountable, the virus or the leaders?

The realism lines:

A nation can minimize a pandemic through travel restrictions and other government programs, but it requires more collaboration to reduce criminal enterprises. These issues may have external influence such as drug trafficking, but internally what are the other social disadvantages and economic barriers that makes these crimes attractive to the youths.

Studies have shown that on average about 40 percent of the Caribbean population identifies crime and security-related issues more severe facing their countries, further so than poverty or inequality.

While these debates continue with each changing guard of the people’s house, the horrific crime has not waned. These criminals gangs abduct students, intellectuals, sports icons, youth, seniors, entrepreneurs; business owners and kidnapping women, and other cases surrounding domestic violence, according to local reports.

Although violence is ubiquitous; unfortunately, some regional media outlets in these communities often compare places such as New York City, and Chicago on how many people died that year. It creates a message of moral and diminished equivalence that is deviating from local crime reality.

The fact is, experts noted that English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and few others have at least 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. These rates are six times higher than those of the United States and 15 to 30 times higher than those of most European countries, according to several data on crime.

In the Bahamas, Belize, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, and US Virgin Island, local leaders cannot afford to lose sight of what experts assess as a troubling murder rate per 100,000.

Though there are limited studies, reports also show that crime costs countries in Latin America and the Caribbean approximately three percent of GDP on average, representing over US$350 billion in policing, private spending, violent victimization, and capital investments.

According to police statistics from January 1–March 2020, 306 people were killed across Jamaica. Between January and February 2020, reports show that Trinidad and Tobago recorded over 73 murders. If this trend continues, it may surpass 2019, 536 murders–the second-highest in Trinidad’s history for one year.

In contrast, Bermuda, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, and other countries maintain lower rates. Of course, they are less populous, and although some remain under colonial rule and well-managed government, there are also reported smuggling of illicit drugs, and firearms, organized crime, and criminal gangs, but these islands have a much better handle on crime. Bermuda recorded its first murder in two years: five in 2018 and zero (0) murders in 2019.

The hidden victims

Part II-

They are innocent people going about their daily lives, hard-working business owners where their success has become a high-risk object for these criminals.

While following the COVID-19 rule, a 75-year-old grandmother held back tears after Ahkeem Lindsay, a 22-year-old man shot to death on March 26, 2020. She spoke of her frustration at the continuing violence, according to the Jamaican Gleaner.

Photo Credit: Jamaica Gleaner

Her story resonates with other victims, and the data shows that a cycle of violence repeats itself. Often a quick media clip is published as empathy, but only gives the impression of concern, while victims in these communities have little to no follow-up support.

Today, more high-powered weapons are being displayed on social media only seen in war zones. And though the local authorities have seized few; there may be gloomier days if these criminals continue to roam these streets.

Unfortunately, when you have reports of weapons found in barrels and those containers that normally use to import food and other supplies; I am terrified, you are either preparing for a civil war, building a massive gang to create more mayhem on the already systematic criminal enterprise. As experts noted, these trends support that you may have a failed state or edging closer.

Furthermore, for everyone one barrel found, no one knows how many already passed through. Maybe it is time to evaluate who are the employees in these critical public service jobs because they too play a pivotal role in the nation’s safety and security

I do not know whether arming business owners or handing over more guns to citizens offers a solution. Most times, criminals target legal gun owners for their weapons.

Walking a tight rope

Caught in the middle are those local dedicated law enforcement officers who must consistently wear multiple hats; key mediator, advisor, diversity coordinator, and youth advocate; group leaders; psychologists, and local volunteers, while consistently explaining the thin line between perceptions of the community and reality.

They are overwhelmed, outgunned, and how these illegal guns arrive on these shores? The last time I checked, Jamaica has no arms manufacturing business. Several reports of seizures of cocaine and country do not manufacture these dangerous drugs.

Officers must follow a close community and political line, exposed to imminent danger, overexerted hostility, and possibly underpaid. Their crucial role in many of these communities will require a tactic such as discovering a COVID-19 vaccine as organized criminals who may suffer from mental illness will take anyone’s life in its path.

It seems that some are using this unprecedented period of unease, anxiety, uncertainty, and stress to unleash chaos on local communities. Unfortunately, many will stand up for some of those accused of horrific criminal acts or camouflage or refuse to provide valuable information to make local law enforcement more effective.

These communities may have mass serial murderers on the local streets if they do not resolve these crimes with the support of the community. They cannot continue blaming law enforcement if they refuse to speak when they have critical information; though some distrust between law enforcement in these communities is facing is self-inflicted and routed in a history of distrust.

There are similar stores that often under the radar like Haiti. A CNN report noted a rising tension in February 2020; Armed Forces desolate country’s National Police headquarters, leaving one wounded, and a soldier dead in Port-au-Prince. Other published reports noted millions threatened by hunger in 2020 because of a spiraling economic and political crisis ten years after their terrible disaster that could cause more civil unrest.

Photo Credit-Globe Post

Analyzing the criminogenic risk:

Part III

Social disadvantages not only in Jamaica but impoverished youths in poor and developing countries who feel abandoned from their economy with insufficient support to establish a solid ground to a positive direction, misconduct, and disorder, become more attractive.

Today, firearms have replaced discussion to minimize a minor conflict. And with the lack of resources for resolution, disagreements degenerate into brutal personal aggression and killings.

Though economic and psychological implications of COVID-19 are still being tested. Experts also noted that, unconsciously, emotional tension can lead to spousal abuse because people are now at home with little or no support and are unemployed.

These local criminals routinely exhibit risk factors such as anti-social and personality behavior. They are unemployed and have inadequate education, and job skills or training, suffer from illegal substance abuse, mental health issues. They also lack moral discipline, and many are victims of crime and need help. Many spoke of the frustration of their leaders in the face of expectations only to be stuck in the same place after each election cycle.

Public safety risk requires a multi-faceted approach ranging from rehabilitation, counselors, mentors, to investment with the participation of law enforcement agencies to collaborate with treatment.

Crime reduction does not always take the form of incarceration. Many incarcerated offenders struggle after the reintegration process with stigmatization, inhuman treatment, and the lack of resources to turn their lives.

Using a general classification of all convicted offenders, whether inside or outside the prison walls, also creates tension and isolation. These troubled individuals frequently have limited adaptive abilities and are quick to commit crimes against anyone, including family members in any conflict, including vigilante justice.

Studies have shown that modernized institutions and policies aimed at transforming offenders once they return to society have noted low rates of recidivism. Bordelais Correctional Institution in St. Lucia is an institution that I have visited. They have an excellent re-entry program in a modernized facility.

The recruitment of good staff is as vital as the assessment and treatment of mental health, substance abuse, vocational training. These interventions targeting criminal behavior towards community re-integration will create a fundamental change to address the causes of this problem. Corrections, legislation, and judicial systems have to see this issue as one.

These ongoing barbaric headlines will not stop and require a holistic approach, like tackling this pandemic for a healthier future. It can no longer (us) compare to (them). The COVID-19 coverage, rules, and strategies have been excellent to date, but horrific crimes need more than “we’re aggressive on crime”, but do they ordinarily identify these criminals? To eradicate these pockets of criminals and build public trust, they need an all hands on deck approach

The social intelligence struggle

Part IV

Every electoral cycle is like a revolving door in most of the region. Economic disparities, rampant poverty, reported corruption that breed hopelessness continues. Leaders on both sides blame each other, and this creates stagnation in critical crime-fighting and economic policies. At what point does good governance come into play once an election is over?

Community and constituency leaders need to work together to condemn these barbaric ideologies that target police; reduce robberies, murders, and kidnapping. They must accept the reality of the public health crisis and work together to change course.

While many victims seek answers, rarely find both political sides call for the disruption of these criminal gangs in outlying parishes and counties. In achieving a common conviction, joint statements send a powerful message to these criminals that the nation will not tolerate the chaos and mayhem.

However, it has become a delicate balance between fear and holding on to the ballot box. These leaders will risk their health by avoiding social distancing in the same communities they have neglected, where criminals have taken over to solicit their future votes. Many leaders not wanting to tick off these criminals walk a tightrope pushing back to peddle a delightful story while the systematic issues continue.

Personal responsibility seems to now boils down to a few tweets for likes, as if some politicians are the only shrewdest people in those communities who control the headlines to minimize reality.

The island pride still holds.

It is not a total tragedy on these banks; [Jamaica’s] economy will rebound, and the residents are still resilient. There are reports of modernization and recovery projects, like new highways and technological upgrades. These government programs will help in the long-run, but the widening gap between the rich and the poor has been stagnant for decades and the root cause of several issues.

The island pride is still an asset, but also a handicap when critical data presents a fundamental problem that few divert elsewhere. Although COVID-19 has required several people to remain in their homes, many residences had already mentally quarantined before the pandemic in gated communities, where security is a constant reminder from steel bars mounted on some homes.

Many are Ex-pats and off-springs are still looking to land safely. They are bound by heritage, roots, culture, or authentic love. They too are affected by COVID-19, but equality if criminals are creating a sense of unsafe feelings only when society beats this crime virus, people can gain back a sense of security like mitigating COVOD-19.

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