by Robert Huntley Peter Hill (Jamaica). Director, Local Government Administration & Community Services Office of the Prime Minister, Department of Local Government, Jamaica
Crime and violence, within homes, schools and communities are among the most pressing social issues currently facing many countries no less so in Jamaica. Difficulties in achieving and sustaining good governance at the community level, and articulating local needs with national institutional responses have hampered efforts to achieve desired levels of community safety in Jamaica. Citizen security approaches to developing sustainable long-term strategies that focus on improved partnerships between civil society, local authorities, and central state agencies to prevent and mitigate the effects of crime and violence level are becoming issues of significance and necessity.
Community Safety and Crime Prevention is emerging as another significant component of Local Governance as this cannot be separated from the planning and local development process, neither can it relegated to the responsibility of the security forces, but rather a more holistic partnership in which key players and stakeholders in the process are able to identify, analyse, share and address issues that affect the entire community.
Violent crime in Jamaica is highly concentrated in urban areas, especially underserved areas of the main cities and towns, and is higher in areas where trust in the police and the broader state is low. These communities exhibit all the indicators of vulnerability, having higher rates of poverty and unemployment, lower educational attainment, low social capital, poor housing stock, and low levels of investment in public spaces. The presence of these inequalities provides fertile ground for crime; and in turn, high levels of crime interfere with human, social and economic development.
The problematic security situation, as well as ineffective governance and social development arrangements undermine Jamaica’s ability to establish and maintain a viable economy that can produce acceptable levels of well-being for the majority of its citizens.
The negative effects of violence in Jamaica have retarded economic growth. According to the World Bank the cost of crime to Jamaica is approximately 3.7% of Gross Domestic Product and the indirect cost is over 14% of GDP . In 2002, for example, the Government spent J$1B (US$15.38M) on treatment of injuries at public hospitals.
Although all forms of violence are significant, statistics on violence against women and girls in particular are alarming. According to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), sexual assault is listed as the second most common cause of injury to Jamaican women; and 70 per cent of all sexual assaults in Jamaica in 2004 were reported against girls.
The Jamaican Government has signed two major international conventions relating to women: The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women – Convention of Belem do Para, indicating the Government’s commitment to ensuring women’s empowerment and full participation.
The Draft National Gender Policy, which is currently in the consultative process, is expected to provide for a national strategy to address gender-based violence. Discussions are taking place at the Joint Select Committee of Parliament regarding the amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act and the Incest (Punishment) Act. This is to ensure that women and girls receive adequate protection and redress under the law.
While the national policies relating to violence against women have accorded importance to gender, how local authorities in Jamaica function has not been informed by the different lived realities of women, men, girls and boys. The processes and systems utilized by local government bodies do not, in the main recognize that the way women and girls experience their communities is mediated by their gender.
Safety as an Issue of Good Governance
Tackling crime and insecurity is an issue of good governance. Successful experiences in crime prevention improve governance. Good governance and safe communities are reciprocal: where inhabitants are free from fear, and where safety is improved for citizens and neighborhoods, interaction among people, among groups, and with public institutions becomes possible. This, in turn, creates an enabling environment for the inhabitants of the community, to improve the quality of their lives and for economic development. In the same way, addressing women’s safety is an exercise of good governance.
The Key Role of Local Authorities
Local government structures are seen as key actors in the development of community-wide planning strategies for crime prevention. The International Conferences on the theme of urban violence and safety held successively in Barcelona (1987), Montreal (1989), Paris (1991), Vancouver (1996), Johannesburg (1998) and Naples (2000) reaffirmed that the role of local authorities as leaders of local partnerships is crucial.
Mayors and councillors are in strategic positions to initiate and co-ordinate local action and adequately address the social demand. A partnership between local government and other stakeholders can enable prevention and ultimately help to eliminate violence, crime and insecurity.
Recommendations for establishing an effective & sustainable response:
Capacity Development Strategy
This approach will assist in developing the capacity of local authorities to formulate, plan, monitor and implement participatory local development plans working together with civil society, security forces, emergency responders and other organizations.
Resource Mobilization Strategy
Efforts should be made to enhance resources by collaborating with international development partners that have ongoing activities in Jamaica in the area of local government development and community safety and which have already committed to provide to the Government of Jamaica technical expertise in capacity building for local authorities.
This response ought to be closely aligned to and support the Draft National Strategic Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, which is being piloted by the Bureau for Women’s Affairs in Jamaica. There must also be an assurance that gender-sensitive training and instruments related to citizen security, such as a Women’s Safety Audit should be central aspects of the capacity-building process.
Communications will be central to the success of the effort. The different audiences and strategies include:
1. Stakeholders who are to be mobilized to support parish safety committees and create parish safety action plans. This mobilization will require direct approaches (flyers, community notice boards, community meetings etc). It will also require broad messaging at the parish/ municipality-wide level that creates awareness, piques interest and creates agreement with the objectives. This can be achieved through partnerships with local television cable stations; outdoor event planners, corporate entities for sponsorship of bill boards etc.
2. National audience: Key indicative objectives and outputs are applicable on a national scale. Building broad national understanding of the need for citizens’ participation, in partnership with elected councils, in ensuring development, peace and security should be an aim of such a process, using existing resources.
The use of existing institutional structures and agencies to ensure national ownership and thus, the sustainability of the programme’s impacts after it is completed.
A. It will establish structured forums for civil society and government planning and action to address community safety, within existing infrastructure of the Parish / Municipal Council, or the Parish Development Committee.
B. It is suggested that the establishment of a National Office for Community Safety would provide national level oversight to Parish Co-ordinators and the establishment of focussed Parish Safety Committees’ and the implementation of the Safety Action Plans.
C. The strengthening of the Local Authorities’ capacity will ensure that local development plans are put into action in a holistic and coordinated fashion and that the national government is kept in touch with communities’ needs, progress made and challenges ahead. This will contribute to the strengthening of social capital and hence, social cohesion of the country.
D. The standardized parish safety action plan template will be a development planning model that can be replicated in other municipalities and communities across Jamaica, not only in the area of citizen security, but in others such as health, environment, education, etc.
About the Author:
Robert H.P. Hill has been working in the service of the Government of Jamaica for the past eighteen years and is regarded as a specialist in Local Governance; he is currently the Senior Director of Local Government Administration, Community Services and Governance in the Office of the Prime Minister (Department of Local Government). He holds a BSc (Hons.) degree in Political Science & International Relations and a MSc. degree in Governance and Public Policy from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. Mr. Hill participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on State and Local Government held in the United States.