The Jamaica government says that the homicide rate is down to just two murders a day, a 30 percent drop from the beginning of 2012. But the security improvement may not have much to do with government policy.
National Security Minister Peter Bunting said that the decrease in killings was connected to a police surge in the crime-ridden neighborhood of St. Catherine North. The security forces have imposed several 24-hour curfews in the neighborhood since the beginning of the year, most recently on April 13, preventing residents from leaving the area without police permission.
Bunting did not give the number of homicides registered so far in 2012, but the general trend seems to be that violence is decreasing on the island. In 2011, Jamaica saw its lowest annual homicide rate since 2003, while March was the least violent month registered in nearly a decade.
Bunting has said that his goal is to see Jamaica’s homicide rate drop to 12 murders per 100,000 residents. It currently stands at 41 per 100,000.
InSight Crime Analysis
The current lack of an aggressive political turf war between Jamaica’s gangs, known as “posses,” is the most likely explanation for the relative peace. Jamaica’s most powerful gangs were initially formed out of garrison constituencies: public housing communities that provide a reliable source of votes for one or other of the two main political parties. Some of Jamaica’s violence is related to political fights between these gangs, who are thought to generate violence — including attacks against the police — as a tactic to pressure the rival political party. The fight for political ground bleeds into turf wars related to the drug trade, the other primary driver of violence in Jamaica.
Along with the neighborhoods of St. Andrews and Tivoli Gardens, where the Jamaican security forces launched a violent raid in 2010 to dislodge drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, St. Catherine North is Kingston’s other most notorious garrison constituency. While police have claimed some successful operations here, including one raid that Bunting said resulted in the arrests of 80 people, it’s unlikely that increased police presence in St. Catherine is responsible for the fall in homicides. This is more likely to be the continuation of a trend first observed last year under the previous government, rather than sparked by any recent policy changes.
The government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who has been in office since January 2012, has a couple of other proposals on the table to tackle gang violence, most of them focused on dismantling these groups’ financial networks. This includes the creation of an organized crime task force, set to launch in May, as well as proposed legislation which would allow the security forces to seize the assets of those who facilitate money laundering, including the relatives and lawyers of gang members.
Parliament has been slow to pass another bill that would make it easier for police to collect and use DNA evidence for criminal investigations. These long-term strategies will likely prove just as important for sustaining Jamaica’s apparent security gains as short-term solutions like a temporary police surge.