– one that involves schoolchildren and communities in their school environment
By Wendella Davidson
WITH Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries being regarded as crime hotspots these days, CARICOM heads and their national security ministers have come up with an innovative plan to take a more evidence-based approach to crime-fighting.
And that plan, according to Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, is to use primary and secondary school children to help determine the root causes of crime.
Speaking last Friday on the National Communications Network (NCN)’s programme, INSIGHT, Minister Ramjattan made the point that while crime is solvable, we in Guyana live in a part of the world that these days has the ignominy of having the highest crime rates of anywhere else in the world; even countries besieged by war or internal conflict.
Using statistics to bolster his argument, Minister Ramjattan said: “Our crime rates, especially our murder rates, are higher than even war-torn Syria… It’s unbelievable, but it is something that is true; 56,000 murders occur in Brazil every year, that is far more than the people dying in the Syrian War. Honduras went up to 68, 000 one year. In Jamaica, the homicide rate is about 55 to 100, 000 people; they had about 2,400 last year. Trinidad is extremely high, again reaching about 38 to 39 per 100,000 people. In Guyana, it is 15; one of the lowest, but Barbados has the lowest; about 11.”
But to get back to the issue of CARICOM heads piloting their innovative plan in regional schools, Minister Ramjattan intimated that it has already been put in motion, as surveys were done at primary and secondary schools here in Guyana, as well as in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, and Antigua and Barbuda.
And the idea is that at the end of it all, an analysis of all the data that was collected from the surveys at the schools will help determine what is going wrong.
What’s also interesting is that the project not only involves conducting surveys in schools, but the communities in and around where those target schools are located as well, in the hope that the information that was gleaned will help the authorities arrive at a workable solution.
According to Minister Ramjattan, following the analysing of the data, efforts will be made to incorporate whatever local inputs they will have had into the designing of an action plan, in the hope that the end result will be a better citizen and a decline in the crime rate.
Noting that about 20 communities have been identified as “hotspots”, though he didn’t say where, whether those communities are here in Guyana or elsewhere in the Caribbean, having conducted surveys at schools countrywide, Minister Ramjattan said there is now a firm idea of what needs to be done.
What is needed, however, he said, are the counselors; the education officers and teachers within the target schools to have an input as to what is the best action plan.
He said, too, that efforts will be made for the “hotspots” at reference to be properly illuminated, and as an added security measure, have CCTV cameras installed in and around the areas so as to deter those wanting to commit a crime to have second thoughts about it.
He said that by taking away certain incentives from at-risk young people and students and instead placing them into clubs to play steel band or become involved in art or other activities, the inclination to misbehave or indulge in stealing, or vandalising will also be removed, and hopefully result in a decline in the crime rate.
MORE EXCITING NEWS
But the exciting news does not just end there for Guyana, as, according to the minister, plans are also afoot to professionalise the Guyana Police Force (GPF) through exposing its members to academic training. He reasoned that by possessing such academic capacity, the Force can then start to work on its own strategic plan and have them implemented.
“That is what is soon going to happen to this country and take us places,” Minister Ramjattan said, while cautioning that the execution of such a vision will depend on a number of things, such as available resources, the leadership of the Police Force, culture change and institutional transformation.
He also spoke briefly on the planned establishment of ‘Champions for Change Clubs’, the funding for which will be provided by CARICOM through the European Union (EU), to do things like buy equipment, construct buildings or pavilions and upkeep the grounds so that people could go there and play whatever games they like, and later become professionals in their respective disciplines.
And, speaking briefly also about the GPF’s recent move to digitise and computerise its operations, Minister Ramjattan said the aim is to have all police stations outfitted with such equipment so as to enhance its crime-fighting capability.
Explaining the effectiveness and the intended development of crime-fighting, he said the aim is to have information on a suspect who commits in the city and escapes, to within ‘real time’ be immediately be sent to Skeldon, Lethem and subsequently all police stations.
“We are going there; that’s a development,” he said, adding: “I have come to realise that it is technology plus professional personnel that is going to take us places, and that is what we are doing now. We are getting the support from Carib Secure, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).”
And, through an arrangement with a huge company in China that produces some fantastic cameras that allow a 360-degree view, even in the air, a Safe City project has been set up, whereby through the high-resolution equipment that is temporarily housed at the National Database Centre at Liliendaal, on the lower East Coast, Minister Ramjattan said that faces can be enhanced, as can car licences and locations among other things.
He said too that several police vehicles are also equipped with cameras and radios, and from the security room at the Control Centre, operators have access to all of the cameras across the city, which they can monitor on a big screen, if needs be.
The system, he explained, is a component of the US$32M National Broadband Project that was funded by the Chinese Government over two years ago, for which a permanent headquarters is soon to be constructed.
STRIKING THAT BALANCE
Speaking of which, Minister Ramjattan said it was brought to his attention that a certain media outlet and other ‘doomsayers’ have been accusing him of breaching privacy laws.
In his defence of the project, he said: “We have to make a balance between security and privacy. If you want to catch criminals, you will have to have some amount of privacy encroached upon.”
As he went on to say, when the Americans and Chinese do likewise, they are commended for being great, but now that Guyana is seeking to follow suit, they are being criticised in editorials, and that if letter writers are of the view that there may be a breach of privacy laws, they should take the matter to court.
This new approach of the Force’s, he noted, “will deter criminality within the streets of Georgetown, which is a hotspot, and as we get more monies from our oil and natural-gas resources, it will then be implemented at Skeldon, Linden, Lethem and within the entire country, within the period of a year.”
And while he did mention in passing, the upgrading of the 911 system, the rehabilitation of police stations countrywide, and the upgrading of the DNA laboratory, he didn’t go into any details, except to say there is need to promote more gender-equality in the Police Force, in terms of encouraging more females to enlist in the officer corps, and to expand the Force’s community policing groupings countrywide, especially in areas next to our borders with Venezuela and Brazil, where at times it is difficult to post personnel.