Kevin O'Brien Chang | Brains, not brutality – smart(phone) crime fighting


"The police need your help. Information is probably the greatest weapon against criminals." Andrew Holness

Mr. Holness is right. And most Jamaicans genuinely want to help the police. But we cannot give the police useful information if they do not provide us with accurate information. Garbage in, garbage out.

Google "America most wanted" and you get an up to date list of most wanted persons in every category. Google "Jamaica most wanted" and you get a two year old newspaper article.

Before talking about ‘drastic measures’ and 'curtailing human rights', our authorities should first facilitate smooth communication between citizens and security forces. When your car gives trouble, don’t you change your oil and filter before buying a new engine?

Most Jamaicans now have smart phones that can take and download and post photos and videos. Here is a powerful crime fighting tool at our fingertips. So make it easy and safe to use smart phones to share crime info. 

Here are some suggestions.

1. Put downloadable photos of the ten most wanted for each police division on the Crime Stop website and phone app. This would instantly transform every Jamaican into a CSI criminal spotter. Five million eyes constantly on the look out for every officially wanted man they see on their phones would mean a new paradigm for criminals - You can run, but you can't hide.

Listen to this US FBI launch of its Wanted mobile app.

'Fugitives are in hiding. But now, they’re in the palm of your hand.

The new free FBI Wanted mobile application provides the public with quick and easy access to profiles, photographs, and more about wanted fugitives. Information is also available about missing children.

"The goal is to put the Wanted poster in front of as many people as you can. So that used to be putting a Wanted poster in a post office, because that’s where people were. And now, we’re going where the people are—and that’s mobile applications."'

How can our authorities not do something like this in Jamaica asap.

2. Address the "fake crime news" problem by giving citizens an authorized place to access crime related communication. A simple low cost start would be a Facebook page posting all official crime related matters: breaking news, missing persons, suspected perpetrators, surveillance videos etc. "If it's real crime news, it's here. If it's not here, it's not real crime news."

3. Publicize effectively the ability of smartphone users to send incognito photos and videos and reports of crimes they have witnessed or have knowledge of. This function is theoretically available now on both the Crime Stop and Stay Alert website and apps, but very few Jamaicans know about it. It needs to be marketed in the same way the Crime Stop anonymous phone call function was. Nothing can work if the public is not aware of it.

(By the way, the Stay Alert Panic App is a great idea. But its reporting aspects are competing with Crime Stop, which has been widely trusted for 30 years. We should be hearing “Use Stay Alert to instantly alert the police when you are in trouble. Use Crime Stop to report crimes anonymously.” Our authorities need to harmonize Crime Stop and Stay Alert and the Constabulary Communication Unit to facilitate state-of-the-art communication with the public. Each has a vital role to play.)

The Private Sector has publicly stated their willingness to help fund such initiatives.

"(Kenneth) Benjamin suggested that participants could each pledge a couple hundred thousand dollars which could add up to… $7 million…

… William Mahfood suggested [it]… be circulated through Crime Stop…

Crime Stop, which was launched in the late 1980s from an initiative by [Gordon ‘Butch’] Stewart… encourages the public to give information by offering total anonymity to all callers…

[Stewart] said that the Jamaica Observer would… promote public support for the initiative. But an attempt would be made to bring other media on board. “We have to draw a line,” Stewart said."

“Lamenting the increase in violent crime… president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association Metry Seaga is making an urgent call for a social partnership to fight crime.

The no-nonsense JMA head said the Government, Opposition, civil society and the private sector should come together to develop a crime plan.”

What better partnership than a cutting edge Wanted App, crime info page, and crime reporting App?

4. Helmet and vests with visible registration numbers for all motor bikes. (A January newspaper report said this will soon be done. We have heard nothing more.)

Fairly or not the public sees motorbikes as crime facilitators. Two men on a bike make everyone instinctively scared. I personally witnessed a two men on a bike robbery attempt recently.

Helmets and vests with registration numbers would enable any witnesses to snap a phone picture of any motor cycle crime and send to the police, making perpetrators easily traceable. It would be a strong deterrent to motorbike criminals that would not bother the law abiding motorbike majority.

5. Colour or number/letter coded license plates for each vehicle depot. When somebody with Swallowfield Kingston license plates is in St Elizabeth driving around at 12 midnight, police can stop and ask why.

Because it happens all the time - gunmen from outside the area drive up and rob a bar and shoot patrons. With colour or number/letter coded license plates for all parish and corporate area license depots, police can stop and question out of town cars driving around at night. Here again would be an obvious deterrent to those of nefarious intent, with the law abiding having nothing to fear.

6. Make it mandatory for every taxi to display a large picture ID with full operator name and taxi license and car plate numbers. So anyone boarding a taxi could simply send a photo of this info to a friend. "At Half-Way Tree, driver name John Brown, taxi license number 12345, licence plate AA 987". Having such information passed around readily would discourage taxi drivers with unlawful intent. But honest taxi men would welcome these measures, as safer passengers would mean more passengers.

7. Enable electronic collection of all police statements and electronic communication between all police stations and a central data collection headquarters. Start with main corporate area stations and the parish capitals which likely process 80% of crimes. Others can be added later.

This was actually one of the recommendations of the much touted Michael Lee Chin led Economic Growth Council. It would be a good place for the ECG rubber to meet the road and convince the skeptical public that it is not just another talking shop. Mr. Lee Chin has overseen electronic communication overhauls at bigger entities than the JCF. Surely he can bring in technical experts to advise the government on creating an interactive communication system for about 20 police stations.

Real time communications would mean instantly available information on every person processed would immediately show if they are wanted for other crimes.

8. Equip all traffic police with smartphones that can instantly check driver and car licenses against a central database. Look how many crimes are committed by persons without a license driving stolen cars. Look how many accidents take place where culprits have scores of outstanding tickets. A mobile license check system would nip such problems in the bud.

None of the above is original or difficult to implement, nor can they possibly arouse objections from human right activists and criminal lawyers. They have all been done in countries serious about crime fighting. Why not Jamaica?

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