A dispute over a piece of meat can lead to murder
Sunday, March 02, 2014

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Police at the scene of a murder in Kingston. (OBSERVER PHOTO)

Policing in the Jamaican context

Policing in democratic countries the world over is driven by policies, rules and regulations. Over time, each organisation develops its own culture, code of ethics and conduct, standard operating procedures and hierarchical structures that manage the operation and administrative processes of the institution.

Nevertheless, there are certain basic underlying principles which permeate all police organisations: they exist for the protection of life and property and the prevention and detection of crime, to keep the peace and to serve as the first point of contact for ordinary citizens within the criminal justice system.

Nevertheless, while all police organisations have the same overall goals, the culture within which they operate will influence what avenues they pursue to achieve them. It is for this reason policing strategies differ across various countries.

The crime situation in Jamaica is unique. While countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, eastern Europe and some cities in North America are also grappling with crime problems, and some have similar murder rates and socio-economic circumstances, the motives and assessment of their problems are easier to come by, and response to the situation is therefore simpler.

For example, 80 per cent of the crime in Latin America is caused by inter-gang feuds, as rival groups fight for dominance of the drug, small arms and trafficking-in-persons trades. While the crime statistics in Jamaica also attribute up to 80 per cent of murders to gangs, the motive for the killings are not as clear-cut. Narratives from police crime blotters show reasons such as a dispute over a piece of meat, disrespecting (dissing) another’s babymother, crossing turf, losing gun(s), playing a song done by a rival artiste and being suspected of being an ‘informer’. These reasons are given for even some of the bloodiest, decades-long feuds.

In other countries dealing with gang-related problems, law enforcement agencies are able to develop specific strategies to deal with the root causes of inter-gang conflicts. If it is narcotics-related, the main players in the trade, areas of trade, main routes and proceeds from the trade are targeted. The same holds for the trafficking in persons and small arms trade. But what strategies do you implement to prevent persons ‘dissing’ each other or playing music that is distasteful to the other side?

The origin of the socio-economic context that feeds into crime is also unique in Jamaica and is made even more complex by the level of apathy shown by some persons in the society, even those with considerable influence.

This is most often manifest in the culture of silence which exists not only in inner cities, but in many affluent neighbourhoods as well. However, according to Sir Robert Peel (1827), “Policing in a democracy cannot be left to the police alone”.

Therefore, while there are calls for renewed and additional legislation, a more community-based approach to policing, improved technologies for investigation, greater professionalism and respect for human rights — all of which are warranted, and are being addressed — perhaps the single greatest factor that can significantly impact the crime situation in Jamaica is for citizens to understand the crime context and to recognise that they must be active participants in the justice system if it is to work.

Cries of “we want justice” usually reverberate through crowds of placard-bearing residents who block public thoroughfares (an illegal act) to air their grouses about myriad issues, from a lack of amenities to alleged abuses by agents of the State. But what many of these persons fail to recognise is that the unwritten code of silence cripples the justice system, handicaps the police and denies them the very justice they desire.

If there is to be a serious dent in the crime figure, if we are to realise the dream of a society where all citizens are free to live and work without fear, then all Jamaicans must realise that they have a role to play, and we must begin to play this role immediately.

— Submitted by the Police High Command


  1. I’ve seen people attempt to start beef @ a nine night over plate of food. Then the same person who was the aggressor chopped someone to death after a funeral several months later because he wanted more food and they asked him to wait till the other people waiting got served before they started doing seconds.

  2. Good article. Until the populace start respecting life itself and decide to aid the police in solving crimes, nothing will change. When people have the nerve to scream “free worl boss” with no care or thought for the victim or the fact that he’s taken a life, the problem lies not with the police but the society itself.

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