Civilized Anti-Crime Initiative Offers Hope for a Brighter Future

In these hard times the news from Jamaica is not always encouraging, but once in a while I hear or read about something that lifts up my spirits. Recently, for example, a friend sent me a video titled “Heal Jamaica,” and it moved me so much I used it in the next day’s “By George” blog. If you haven’t caught the video yet, you can click here:

Another uplifting bit of news came from a Gleaner story about the Ministry of National Security’s Community Animation Programme, which is reportedly making a big difference to the lives of people in March Pen, an urban community in the Spanish Town area.

According to Ivan Barnes, President of the March Pen Road Community Council, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of young people on the streets and community residents have been settling disputes in a more amicable way since the programme started. The Gleaner article quoted Barnes as saying:

“The community is fairly quiet now. Currently we have over 100 young persons, some of whom used to sit on the road, who are now in the CSI programme. We also have some of the same persons joining in with the Animation Programme, seeking a different way out, in terms of dealing with issues that may confront them on a daily basis.”

The Ministry of National Security launched the crime fighting programme on April 1, through the Community Security Initiative (CSI), with the aim of bringing together community leaders and residents, and the police, in a setting where they can work out conflicts and head off violence.

“The programme has brought us to a level where … as a community (we) can talk to the ‘dons’, or whoever is in conflict. We can explain to them how to go about resolving their problems, who to talk to and all that,” Mr. Barnes was quoted as saying. “If anything happens in the community, we are the first ones they run to, before it escalates. So that level of understanding is very much alive in the community. We don’t have to force anyone to join. I think they have grasped the fact that this is the best way to resolve their problems.”

Catering student Danniee Williams, who is participating in the animator training programme, said March Pen “was a troubled community, but it no longer is.”

“When violence or conflicts occur, we just have to deal with them and do it in the right form,” she said.

I am impressed by the level of sophistication being displayed by the Jamaican government. In Florida, where I live, it seems that the knee-jerk response to crime is to gun down the perpetrators – or at least slap them in prison. The news that a more civilized approach, based on prevention rather than retribution, is working in Jamaica is music to my ears.

And from the results reported so far, this programme seems to be catching on.

CSI Director Patricia Balls reports overwhelming interest from communities. “We find that there are a number of communities that we did not have on our list, because we wanted to start with about eight. These communities would be those that the CSI and Peace Management Initiative are already working in. But, we will be including communities such as Tivoli Gardens, because of the popular demand,” she said.

This programme is part of the wider campaign called ‘Together We Can Stop It’. That campaign is designed to:

  • Foster a partnership between citizens and law enforcement officers in the fight against crime
  • Encourage citizens to take preventive actions to guard against the abduction and rape of women and children
  • Motivate citizens to pass on to law enforcement officers vital information on murder, abduction, rape, abuse and any other major crimes.

I know the global economic crisis must be making it very difficult for Jamaica to address the chronic problems of poverty and crime, but civilized initiatives like this make me feel that the island’s leaders are up to the challenge.