People-empowered Crime Fighting
Published: Sunday | December 14, 2008

For all the sound and fury pontification of the hanging debate, international trends make it extremely unlikely that Jamaica will ever again execute murderers. Yet we keep ignoring common-sense ways to make our country a safer place by empowering the people to fight crime.

Take the 'white plate taxi' problem. Almost daily we hear reports about young women being abducted and robbed, and sometimes tragically raped and murdered, by unlicensed taxi men. Why do they take these illegal taxis despite all the warnings? Because there are not enough official red plate cabs around, and the choice is often between taking a chance with a white plate taxi, or remaining alone on a dark and scary street.

Obvious solution

The screamingly obvious solution is to get more licensed red plate taxis on the road, and make them more accountable to officialdom. The taxi friends I've consulted with have a basic five- point proposal.

1) Get more red plate taxis on the roads by making the licensing process more efficient and timely. Apparently, the current process is a nightmare.

2) Have a proper vetting process to screen out those who have been previously convicted of a sex or violent crime. Do we want rapists driving our children around?

3) Every licence issued should include a photo, fingerprint, and DNA. This would make it very easy to track down any taxi involved in wrongdoing.

4) Make it mandatory for every taxi to display a large picture ID with full name and taxi licence and licence plate numbers. This would mean anyone boarding a taxi could simply text this info to a friend. For example "At Half-Way Tree, taxi name John Brown, taxi licence number 12345, licence plate AA 987". Having such information passed around would make all taxis extremely careful about doing anything nefarious. This would be welcomed by honest taxi men, who realise that safer passengers means more passengers.

Enforce tinting law

5) Enforce the no tint law on all public transport. Most taxi users I talk to agree that a little sun is a low price to pay for greater security. Dark-tinted cars are too often mobile criminal hideouts.

If some of these laws are already on the books, they are definitely not being enforced. There are countless 'black as night' tinted taxis on the road. And when last have you seen a taxi with a picture ID? Updated and enforced taxi laws would make every commuter feel safer.

But instead of focusing on basic things that would make the daily journey of our working women much less stressful, our politicians prefer to indulge in grandstand capital punishment philosophising. Are they too insulated in their air- conditioned SUVs to feel any sympathy for our frightened females who literally risk their lives to get home from work and school?

Another proven way to empower citizens in fighting crime, and one which has been very successful in other countries, is an interactive Crime Stop Internet site. The Crime Stop phone line does a fine job. But many still feel their voices can be traced and are reluctant to use it. A state-of-the-art Crime Stop website would hugely increase the number of Jamaicans involved in reporting and monitoring crimes.

Every Jamaican has a cellphone, many with cameras and videos, and most young people use the Internet. A Crime Stop Internet site would allow people to text in a report of any crime they witness, or send in pictures of criminals they see, or even videos of police corruption incidences they experience. In essence, criminals - including the police variety - would be under surveillance by the entire cell- phone population. This would be a quantum leap advance in local crime fighting.

Crime Stop fear factor

Because all Internet users are basically anonymous, a Crime Stop site would remove the fear factor from citizens crime reporting. Take that brazen daylight murder at Half-Way Tree a few months back, witnessed by hundreds. If even one person with a camera phone had taken a shot of the perpetrator, they could go to an Internet café and download the photo and what they witnessed to the Crime Stop Internet site. And voila - police have an eyewitness description of the crime and a picture of a suspect to pursue. Multiply this a thousand times, and the 'see no evil hear no evil' attitude that so hampers police investigations would almost vanish overnight.

It's not that Jamaicans don't want to report crimes. It's that they feel they can be traced by wrongdoers or corrupt police if they do so, and might be killed, as has happened so often in the past. But it would be impossible for anyone to find out who used which computer to report which crime.

Other channels could be set up on this Crime Stop Internet site for things like reporting police corruption or even general public official corruption. Of course, you would get crank reports and such, but proper monitoring could separate wheat from chaff.

Posting pictures on website

The site should also have pictures of missing children and of most wanted criminals which could be downloaded to cellphones and passed around. Suddenly you would have millions of eyeballs looking for the most wanted and missing. Clear colour downloadable pictures would mean being able to instantly check in detail whether that suspicious-looking man you passed is really on the most-wanted list. Even big printed pictures could be put up in districts. All this would be a vast improvement over the few blurry black and white newspaper photos we have now. And it would put every criminal whose picture appears in the press under intense spotlight, and surely increase the reporting incidence to police dramatically.

Crime Stop Internet sites are used in many other places, are not hugely expensive, could easily be funded by the business community, and could be put in place tomorrow. If I were security minister, getting ours into operation would be a top priority. It would certainly be way more effective than the recently announced additional emergency numbers.

'Jamaica most wanted'

We are also missing the boat by not doing a 'Jamaica Most Wanted' television version of Crime Stop. The current 30-second ads are helpful. But an expanded version would have far more impact. Vox pops suggest it would be a hugely popular idea, and would both help to catch criminals and make ordinary Jamaicans feel less helpless and unable to do anything.

Nothing is successful unless it gets the populace involved. A Crime Stop Internet site and a 'Jamaica Most Wanted' television show would turn every Jamaican into a potential crime fighter. Again, these are affordable, can be done right now, and require no new laws. And surely, not even the lawyers or human rights activists could find fault with such initiatives. They sure seem like no-brainers to me - if we really want to cut crime, that is. I'm beginning to wonder.

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