Communities key to crime reduction, says expert
(CNS): There is a need for stronger community commitment in order to help reduce the levels and impact of violent crime in the region, Professor Anthony Harriott, Director of the University of the West Indies Institute of Criminal Justice and Security said in Cayman last week. The crime expert said that where there was strong community cohesion there was more informal control over crime. Speaking at a regional bank conference he told the audience that a shift was required across regional communities away from the idea that security is the responsibility of the authorities alone. But he also pointed to a need to tackle corruption among police and politicians before wider crime could be addressed.
He said ordinary people express deep concerns about crime as well as politicians and business people but dealing with the issue at a policing level alone would not reduce crime rates. Professor Harriott, who is also a head of department at the Caribbean Development Bank, was speaking at the annual governors meeting when he said tackling crime required a concerted public effort as well as from the authorities. But the expert warned that a pre-requisite for reducing crime was anti-corruption efforts.
“The big problem in the Caribbean region is violent crime,” he said. “Recent reports, including a World Bank report, have noted that the Caribbean ranks number two in the world as a region when it comes to social criminal violence, so we have a very serious and very difficult problem.”
Taking his statistics from a recent study by the United Nations Development programme entitled: Caribbean Human Development Report: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security, Prof Harriett said crime was a critical social problem.
While it had been recognised as retarding economic growth, making life difficult for people, creating a loss of confidence in Caribbean countries leading to migration, the professor said what was also important was that the region’s general populations recognised this in some instances as the highest ranking social problem even in the context of a deep economic crisis.
“It’s not just the elite and the academics who are saying this, it is the general population of the Caribbean who are saying that this warrants close attention by our governments and regional institutions,” he said.
According to the report, the Caribbean and Latin America is home to 8.5 percent of the world’s population, yet it concentrates some 27 percent of the world’s homicides.
The increased prevalence of gang crime in the region had caused the occurrence of violent crime to increase, the professor said. 13 per cent of the 12,000 people from seven Caribbean countries who responded to the survey on which the report was based confirmed that gangs were in their neighbourhood.
“The evidence shows that where gangs exist there is a dramatic increase in victimisation rates for different crimes. In most cases where gangs exist it increases the victimisation rate by 100 per cent,” said Harriott. “This is a central issue for Caribbean countries.”
Research showed that risk factors associated with joining gangs in the Caribbean included poor school achievement and commitment, where parents favoured anti-social behavior, “a robust risk factor for people getting into gangs”, as well as associating with anti-social peers, he added.
Community was very important because it offered opportunities for informal control of young people and put pressure on delinquent youth to avoid gang activity and gang involvement. Availability of guns was another risk factor. Young people’s sense of belonging to their community and country was also very important as was whether they believed others in their community respected them and whether there were channels of participation within these communities as well as at a national level, Professor Harriott explained
“Where we have strong community cohesion you tend to have some informal control. For a lot of intervention efforts these initiatives are likely to succeed where there is involvement from the community,” he said. “Co-production of security is an important shift that needs to be made within the community, away from the traditional notion that security is solely the responsibility of enforcement professionals.”
Jamaica, the professor said, had actually managed to reduce its homicide rates by 30 per cent by introducing a robust gang reduction strategy. The Jamaica success had been as a result of obtaining social and political consensus, the first time he had ever seen such agreement in his lifetime. “I think it succeeded because suppression was coupled with alternatives being offered to young people. There were some important community based initiatives, interventions centred on work for young people. I believe that helped to make law enforcement more effective,” the professor added.
International intervention was also important for Jamaica’s success because high end crime was a trans-national and a regional phenomenon. “We need to cooperate at a regional and international level if we are to make an important dent in the problem,” he said. Anti-corruption efforts were a condition of success and anti-corruption efforts, aimed at the law enforcement agencies and the political system were very important for progress, he warned.
Echoing Professor Harriott’s comments, the report found that “alarm raised by increase in crime levels in the Caribbean has often led to short-sighted, mano dura (iron fist) policies, which have proven ineffective and, at times, detrimental to the rule of law…A key message of the report is that Caribbean countries need to focus on a model of security based on the human development approach, whereby citizen security is paramount, rather than on the traditional state security model, whereby the protection of the state is the chief aim. Indeed, the contrast between prevention on the one hand and repression and coercion on the other is ill conceived.”
Social inclusion to help prevent crime and violence and efficient and effective law enforcement were by no means incompatible or mutually exclusive, it went on to say.
“In a truly democratic society, broad based social inclusion and swift criminal justice–or “prevention” and “coercion”—serve to reinforce and complement each other. This is one of the most important lessons to be taken from this report – and not only for the Caribbean but for all of Latin America as well,” the report said.
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