May 27, 2020

Reducing high crimes need a COVID-19 approach on some Caribbean shores

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By R.D. Miller

R.D. Miller

After the coronavirus (COVID-19) washed onto the Caribbean island and infections increased; followed-up with press conferences and social media by government officials provided crucial awareness, doctors and nurses work tirelessly to battle the deadly disease in challenging conditions.

The social media explosion also exposed some tension between political leaders, their communities, the science, while experts called for more resources, protection of staff, and tests to understanding the disease impact. There were queries to which businesses should remain open and whose fault for the shortcomings.

Sadly, few in the medical fields with dissenting views on implementation strategies, missing from press briefings and town halls meetings, including several residents with questions. But beneath these debates, dead bodies are piling up from murders that outnumbered COVID-19 cases and could use a few more open briefings.

Studies have shown that crime costs Latin American and the Caribbean countries about three percent of GDP on average, which is over US$ 350 billion in police services, private spending, victimization, and the social cost for visitors and investments that may sojourn.

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 this country’s history.

COVID-19 in other islands such as 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.

In contrast, Bermuda recorded its first murder in two years; five in 2018, and zero (0) murders in 2019.  Since March 27, 2020, the ministry of health, also confirmed no cases of COVID-19.

Yes. Bermuda, Barbados, Cayman Island, Curacao, and others have lower crime rates, less populated, and while some remain under colonial rule and better-managed government. Despite reported illegal drugs and gun trafficking, organized crime and gangs along the ocean, these islands are managing crime much better.

Under the radar, Haiti’s CNN report, tension rises February 2020; Armed Forces conflict with the country’s National Police after an attack on its headquarters, leaving one soldier dead and two others injured in Port au Prince. There are also reports that millions threatened by hunger in 2020 due to a spiraling economic and political crisis ten years after their disaster could lead to more civil unrest.

Unquestionable, crime is ubiquitous but since COVID-19 emerged, criminals have not wavered. They are kidnapping students, killing women, local intellectuals, sports icons, youths, elders, business leaders; and school counselors based on reports. The handling of COVID- 19 seems like a mis-congeniality contest where favorable comments are liked, concerns; or critical questions by the public remain mute on crimes, and their silence is deafening.

Accountability now down to a few tweets as vague statements populated the media. It is as if elected officials are the most educated people in these countries. Few experienced journalists as it appears, possibly from personal or business connections, inner-circle social status and upsetting political leaders may threaten one’s livelihood. Even with isolation and fear of these brazen criminals, few fail to call out contemporaries.

Seldom are constituency leaders balancing justice and economic prosperity in calling for the total disruption of these gangs in all parishes and counties. Politics remain a balancing act between fear, social savviness, and manipulation. They seek out targets in pushing back to sell a feel-good story beneath the decay. And while elections should be about the next generation, it seems personal status and financial gain is more important.

Though it is not total unhappiness on these shores; there is modernization, and revitalization of ports, roads, technology,  and medical centers, but habitually seen along party lines of loyalty, that make others feel shut out of the economy.

However, at what point good-governance kicks in when an election is over?

The parliamentary system of government tends to create stagnation. Opposition leaders who may have just lost an election often become what it could, should, have been; with their social supporters blaming each other for past and current socio-economic, and crime problems.

Wedged in the middle, local law enforcement officers who must consistently wear multiple hats; mediator, counselor, diversity coordinator, and youth advocate; bandleader; and volunteers. Their role is like finding a cure today for COVID-19 as criminals are elusive killing anyone in their path.

Fighting crime from Latin America to the Caribbean shores remain a crossroad between an old political policing era to modern community policing. Officers must walk a tight community and political line, while stress, facing danger, hostility overworked and maybe under-paid.

Normally, a pandemic creates a window of coming together in this rebalancing of society globally, but criminals use this unprecedented time of anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty, and stress to riff mayhem on communities.

Unable to leave because of the COVID-19, a 75-year-old grandmother of Ahkeem Lindsay, a 22-year-old, male shot killed on March 26, 2020, talked about her frustration of the ongoing violence, according to the Jamaican Gleaner. Her story echoes elsewhere. Even cases of domestic violence, quick media clips emerged provided an impression of concerns, but victims are left in that environment without follow-up support.

Yes, COVID-19 has excellent coverage, but these horrendous crimes need more than, “we are tough on crime,” but do they know these criminals?

These criminals consistently display criminogenic risk factors of anti-social behavior and personality. While unemployed with low education, low job skills, substance abusers, mental health issues, lack of discipline are also victims of crimes.

Several talked about frustration with their leaders from expectation and hopelessness seeing the same recycled politics. Managing risk requires a multidimensional approach from rehabilitation, vocational and career development. Numerous incarcerated people struggle after re-entry process with stigma. Additionally, practitioners must expurgate inhumane treatment of offenders; and not one blanket classification on all convicted; both inside and outside of the prison walls.

Studies have shown that modernized institutions and policies to move the offender forward once they return to society have seen low recidivism. The Bordelias Correctional Facility in Saint Lucia is one I’ve visited that has a good modernized system.

Today, guns replaced an individual coming down the hill with a stick after any minor conflict. And with the lack of resources for resolution, any disagreement tends to escalate into serious personal assaults and murder.

Island Pride is an asset, but also a liability when critical data presents a fundamental problem few abates, deflect elsewhere. Communities where violence created exodus; some protect criminals, cover-up or refuse to come forward with information for law enforcement to be more effective, to call for the release of an accused when the evidence points to guilt.

Today more high-powered weapons are being shown on social media only seen in war zones, and though few have been seized by authorities; there could be darker days ahead.

Reducing crimes does not always lie with incarceration. Recruiting the right policies, to target-based strategies, modernize branches of law enforcement is equally important to create a paradigm shift to get to the root causes.

High crime set back any nation and attracting investments to generate employment. While searches continue for the soul of these islands, stick beating like seen in other places such as India when citizens refused to remain inside, maybe a nauseating idea, in reducing, COVID-19, on these shores. But silently many residences have already mentally quarantined from outfitted homes secured with steel bars from becoming victims of crime, where socialization only takes place in pre-selected status groups, up at sunrise and grilled inside by sunset.

Certainly, COVID-19 economical and psychological impact is still being assessed. Experts also noted that subconsciously, tension can result in domestic violence as individuals are unemployed, layoff and closed businesses with little support.

Politics is everywhere, expatriates are gauging these murders, missing students, rape and robberies that need a COVID-19 approach for a healthier future or likely return to their roots.

R.D. Miller has been a member of the criminal justice field for over 15 years. He holds an MBA and a M.S. in criminal justice and leadership.
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