Lies, lies and damned Jamaican crime statistics

In a friendly exchange with attorney, Clyde Williams, I tried to air a concern with some of the basic Jamaican crime ‘data’ published. The concern is simple: not all crimes are alike and have much meaning if one only looks at incidents. To make the point more clearly, look at the table below:

We can accept that ‘murders’ are measured in units of deaths, i.e., 1351 people were reported as killed in 2016. But, what do we know about the 1219 reported shootings in the same year? Unless we know things like how many bullets were discharged, we don’t know how to interpret the 1219 shootings in 2016, relative to the 1070 in 2015. In other words, for crimes that involve an action with other consequences, we need to know the content of the action. Otherwise, we make a simple mistake of saying crime has risen or fallen based merely on incidents. For clarity, 1219 shootings with a total of 10,000 shots/bullets, would be less that 1070 shootings with 12,000 shots discharged. So, crime volume could have lessened.

Now, the JCF can argue that data on incidents are easy to compile, but details of what took place would be difficult to compile. Maybe, but in that case they’d better take care is telling us what they believe is happening to crime.

Incidents involving removal of property have similar problems. A robbery that involves $1 million isn’t the same as one involving $10,000. So, fewer robberies in 2016 over 2015, but for greater value in 2016 than in 2015, would be an increase in crime, in my eyes.

One reason why value details are important is that the likelihood of reporting tends to rise with the value of the losses.

Again, JCF can argue that it takes more work and creates problems of verification, if one seeks to assign monetary values to certain crimes.

Focus on incidents also hides another feature of the real volumes of crime. Data tend to show one incident irrespective of number of participants. So, a gang of five involved in a robbery or a murder is one robbery or one murder, the same as a single robber or murderer. I think it’s obvious what the problem is there. In such cases, I’m not sure if ‘cleared up’ would mean solving the robbery as distinct from finding all the robbers. Of course, if the ‘ clearing up’ means finding all the criminals, then we can breathe some sighs of relief. But, I hope you can see the difference that details make to our understanding of what types of crimes are really being committed.

FLA…The singing may be about to stop

Jamaica is going through interesting times. Then, again, when isn’t it?

If I could borrow a literary device much liked by witty commentator and legal luminary, Gordon Robinson:

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la!

‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la!

Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la la la la!

Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la la la!

See the blazing yule before us, Fa la la la la la la la!

Strike the harp and join the chorus, Fa la la la la la la la!

Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la!

While I tell of Yuletide treasure, Fa la la la la la la la!

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la!

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, Fa la la la la la la la!

Sing we joyous all together! Fa la la la la la la la!

Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la la la la!

An ongoing saga of sorts is unfolding as the country’s Firearms Licensing Authority (FLA, or just Fa, la, la, la) is seeming being shown to have been a nest of various forms of corruption, at worst, and maybe a series of systemic malpractices, at best.

While I am fascinated by the story that seems to show that many of the practices were the stuff of which malfeasance is made, I am also watching to see if any of the discoveries lead to what I feel is necessary across the landscape of criminality in Jamaica: that the risk-reward equation is shifting dramatically towards the risk end. Put simply, it’s too easy to get away with crimes in Jamaica, so why not indulge in it. This sentiment carries through many aspects of life, and it’s only the more visible difficulty of ‘getting away with it’ that will make more people choose not to indulge in the first place.

Part of not getting away with it is getting caught. That means our services that should apprehend criminals really do that job. Another part is getting prosecuted. That means, after apprehending criminals, a good case is put together to go in front of our justice system. A later part is getting sentenced. That means the good case put to the Justices, stands up to scrutiny (including all necessary witnesses and facts do not mysteriously go missing.)

In this regard, it’s worth reading the views of leading attorney Linton Gordon in a column published in the Gleaner, today: ‘What citizens need to hear now is that the present administration is prepared to do all that is required to ensure that those who are responsible for this debacle must ‘wear short pants’.’

Along the way, we have to see that those snared are to just the ‘little fish’, but also the ‘big Kahunas’. The little fish are easily scared away by a few ripples in the water, but the bigger fish are often predators of great skill and wont be put off course by a few ripples.

It’s too early in the unfolding sage to know if any of the necessary conditions are going to be met. But, we need to start seeing if this country really is turning any kind of corner on corruption that mirrors vaguely what has been going on with our economic policy and performance.

Risk perception: what location of bus stops tell us and some policy implications

Sometimes, we need to take a number of different perspectives to look at how different societies perceive risks. We often think of risk in some catastrophic sense, as during the hurricane season in the Caribbean basin, and the likelihood that a hurricane will make landfall or come close and the damage that may cause. We want to assess risks, generally, to be better prepared. Often, we cannot stop events occurring, but we would like to be either well forewarned, or well protected against the event. That protection can come in many forms, and isn’t my interest, today.

One different perspective I have been looking from, recently, has to do with public road safety. My general observation is that risks are perceived very differently, and unless policy addresses those differences, their likelihood of success must be less.

I’ve thought before about drivers’ behaviour, and drawn on my observations from living and working in several countries.

I noticed something else, recently, to do with roads that may give insights into why certain measures tried in some countries may not work well in others.

To keep things simpler, let us look at how three quite different societies treat risks as demonstrated by placement of public bus stops. We will look at the USA, the UK, and Jamaica; I know these three countries reasonably well.

Now, it may not seem so immediately obvious, then the placement of public bus stops tell us something about people’s risk perception.

Spacing of bus stops is a part of transport planning that should not be random, as in many countries, that spacing has to do with fare (stage) structures. Borrowing from a readable Wikipedia entry, some of the essentials are well laid out:

‘…the way that transit stops are spaced will depend on the goals of the provider and the type of service. A service that seeks to serve all people along a line with few coverage gaps will locate stops closely together. This results in duplicate coverage, which means that multiple stops are in walking distance for many destinations along the line. Duplicate coverage results in slower average vehicle speeds because of frequent stops. On the other hand, for a service that demands higher speeds, like a Bus Rapid Transit service, stops should be spaced further apart. This means that fewer people and destinations will be in walking distance from each stop, but it results in less duplicate coverage and higher average speeds. Additionally, the more frequent and fast the service is, the greater distance people may be willing to walk to get to bus stops. In the United States, local bus stops are often located about 1/4 mile apart or less, with rapid stops 1/2 to 1 mile apart...

When on-street, bus stops may be located at a variety of points on a block. Each possible location has its benefits and drawbacks for different types of service.’

As regards, location of stops, it’s worth noting some basic principles:

  • Near-side Locationstops are located at the side of the block prior to crossing an intersection. The advantage of this location is that red-light dwell time can overlap with passenger boarding and alighting dwell time. However, it increases the risk of conflicts with vehicles making right turns.
  • Far-side Locationare advantageous because traffic signals create gaps in traffic flow for buses to re-enter traffic. This location works best with Transit Signal Priority. However, queuing buses may block intersections.
  • Mid-block Locationexperience less pedestrian congestion than the other two stop locations. They do, however, encourage mid-block crossing for pedestrians and increase walking distance for people crossing from intersections.

What struck me was both the spacing of stops and the location, in Jamaica, and how that seems to differ greatly compared to the USA and UK. However, the UK also differs much from the USA.

One simple reason for the differences is how each country has given priorities (both statutory and customary) to drivers versus pedestrians. In a nutshell:

  • USA gives pedestrians legal priorities in many instances when pedestrians and vehicles are likely to interact. Customs follow the laws, largely: drivers tend to take care in the presence of pedestrians, and pedestrians generally respect various rules of the road to avoid conflicts with vehicles, eg crossing at designated places, having harsh penalties for drivers not giving due care to the presence of pedestrians (eg, by overtaking parked buses).
  • UK gives pedestrians some legal priorities, but generally vehicles have greater rights of way. Customs tend to note the vulnerability of pedestrians and drivers will generally take great care if interactions are likely; pedestrians act with caution, but generally will be less bound by the laws of the road regarding interactions with vehicles, eg, crossing roads at undesignated places.
  • In Jamaica, pedestrians have few legal priorities on the road. Customarily, drivers don’t usually give much consideration to pedestrians. In turn, pedestrians are often casual in their interactions with vehicles, eg crossing at will, whether vehicles are present or not.
Bus stop, UK
Bus stop, Washington DC
Bus stop, State-owned public service, Jamaica
Bus stopping, private minibus, Jamaica

On a scale, the USA in closer to the end of high risk-avoidance, UK is high, too, but lower than the USA; Jamaica is closer to the end of low risk-avoidance. (It’s worth noting that many western and northern European have much tighter road rules and society is much harsher in its attitudes to transgressions, either by drivers or pedestrians. By contrast, Jamaica is very lax in applying its laws on road use.) Our high rates of vehicular accidents, even not involving pedestrians, really tell the tale of ‘you get what you (are not prepared to) pay for’.

Another reason is the way that urban areas are structured. Many US cities have grid road systems, which create standardised shapes of blocks of buildings and distances between roads. UK cities are usually a maze of winding roads, with little or no standardisation on length and shapes of blocks. Jamaica tends to follow the British style, with its own topographical and geographical twists–space is limited and most roads are single lane each way.

The USA is also blessed with large amounts of space so has developed roads that are often more expansive than in many other countries, allowing two or more lanes in each direction in many urban situations. This is a rarity in the UK, and even less so in Jamaica.

Rules aside, behaviours developed and shaped how buses and people interact.

In London, for instance, buses used to have open decks, so it was possible for passengers to literally hop on, or off a bus somewhere other than at a designated stop, or without waiting for a bus to come to a halt. Such buses no longer operate as part of the regular public transport fleet.

In the USA, people are accustomed to buses being close to intersections and see no problems with stops placed just before traffic lights (‘near-side’), knowing that driver behaviour will usually show awareness of possible pedestrian movements. The UK tends to place bus stops mid-block, removing many risks that are perceived as likely to occur near traffic lights if large numbers of pedestrians are likely to arrive there in blocks, and when drivers generally have priorities.

In Jamaica, bus stops tend to be mid-block, and rarely near traffic lights. Space limitations also mean that bus stops are not always recessed, allowing traffic to pass when buses stop–this is in marked contrast to the USA and UK, where buses stopping normally have little effect on traffic flows.

Jamaica has a major public urban bus company that tends to adhere to good driver behaviour. However, some of the road limitations can make even good behaviour a creator of risk, eg a bus stopping at a point in the road that is marked ‘no overtaking’. However, these drivers also have bad habits, eg a bus this morning parked at the turning point of a T-junction, creating a risky manoeuvre for drivers coming from any of the three directions.

However, even with these buses, which operate on published schedules and routes, people are accustomed to hailing a bus and expecting it to stop, usually not far from the designated stop, but not necessarily. That makes a mockery of well-designated stop locations.

Jamaican pedestrians are accustomed to crossing at will, so see few problems in getting off a bus and immediately looking to cross, either in front or behind the bus. The general belief that drivers will stop shapes how people approach the riskiness of such behaviour.

Jamaica also has private minibuses in urban areas and travelling interurban and in rural areas. The behaviour of the drivers of these vehicles is often poor, including stopping at will, corralling passengers across busy roads, cutting in and out of traffic, speeding, etc. So, locations of bus stops are not an issue for them, but their cavalier attitudes become another element of high risk for other users of the road.

So, when framing policy to deal with road casualties, it’s not just a matter of putting laws on the books, but also a matter of dealing with how people will adhere to any laws, and the risks they see in breawking them. In a country like Jamaica, where people ignore the safe crossing offered by a footbridge in favour of trying to dodge oncoming vehicles, one can see how poor risk-assessments are.

Barbican road improvements: It shouldn’t have to come to this. Why the lack of public consultations?

First, a declaration. Before I worked as a macroeconomist, I did my post-graduate studies in urban planning and started my working career as a transport economist, dealing with spatial planning issues in Wales.

Those of us who live near Barbican or have to use the traffic ‘circle’ that is in the centre of Barbican know that it is one of the worst road intersections one can imagine having to encounter. Traffic in considerable volumes, pass by the circle, mostly in single file and in a form of one-way movement. It needs a lot of reconfiguration, and some widening to allow for better traffic flows. That’s not an impossible task, though made harder by not being able to use all of the considerable amount of land that is now in the middle of the circle, and the existing siting of a major creator of traffic entry and exit in the form of Barbican Centre shopping plaza (which should have had separate slip roads to ease these movements).

Nature has thrown up flaws in the proposed improvements, in the visible form of a new retaining wall for a church that cascaded all too easily during a heavily down pour of rain several months ago. The wall was put up to protect the church, after part of its frontage was taken away to accommodate the proposed road widening. The church seems to have been trying in vain to get the wall repaired and its voice heard about the development. The episode is a sad one, as indicated in this column in today’s Gleaner, and another article in the paper.

Sadly, it’s not atypical.

That the church authorities have to take to the newspapers goes to one of the sorry and persistent aspects of government in Jamaica, which is its heavy-handedness and constant reluctance to take people along in processes, almost ignoring that government is there to serve citizens, not to just be a power force for itself.

My planning experience was filled, albeit for only a few years, with processes known as ‘public consultations’. This seems totally alien to how major proposals go forward in Jamaica. I asked on Twitter in May where one could see the development plans. I received no reply. Why can we not go to see a scale model of what is proposed? Where are the details of the project and its timescale?

Funnily, on my way back from Mandeville this afternoon, I saw a group of engineers at Barbican, deep in discussions with each other about some aspect of the roads. Pity, we don’t get to share their and our thoughts.

These projects are not like private development of a home; they are uses of public money and the public cannot and should not be constantly treated with such disregard. Do better!

Can Jamaicans find it in themselves to stop being partisan?

I don’t know how many of us there are, but I sense the number is growing. Many of us are not directly connected, though some of us are. However, even if connected, we have not agreed on any structure or mandate or way of proceeding. Maybe, it’s better to stay that way–developing organically.

I often get criticized for doing something that I think more Jamaicans need to do. I was sometimes vilified for not doing it when I lived in Barbados. I never felt the need to do it in the US. When I lived in the UK, I was less ready to do it.

I try not to see things from a party-political standpoint. Now, that’s not to say that I do not have political bias; of course, I do, but I try to see if the arguments that come from various sides stand up to scrutiny. I often find that those who stand for political parties that share my views do not speak with a voice that I would want to follow.

I much respect the views of Gordon Robinson, an attorney with a sardonic wit. He wrote on his blog yesterday about our seemingly interminable fight with violent crime, under the title ‘Here we go again‘. He pointed out that the latest attempts by the police at ‘cordons and searches, curfews and detentions for preventative and investigative purposes’  are doomed to fail, because they’ve been tried many times before and failed over the past 40 years. He argues that governments need to accept that they have failed:

‘The first step must be a political one. The political parties must publicly accept that both have failed miserably at curbing violent crime. Both must admit that neither has the complete answer

We, as Jamaicans, must insist on taking crime off the political table. We must stop pointing political fingers on this issue. The Parties must get together; form a joint task force on crime to include security experts and wise men from the citizenry; and undertake to continue the eventually agreed policy across administrations.’

That’s where we come in–those who can and do see things without a glazed political optic that says oranges are nice because they are orange, or green vegetables are good for you because they are green.

It’s easy for me to take this attitude, I’ll readily admit, because I owe no favours to any party and do not depend on any party for any favour. I cannot be so bold as to say that holds for many Jamaicans. But, like the problem of crime itself, it’s one of the cords that needs to be cut. Easy for me to say when I have no contracts given to me by the government of the day. Easy for me, when I don’t have to depend on an MP or councillor of party x or y to help me with school fees or medical bills.

The easier thing to do would be for the politicians to stop being ‘fatted calf’ from which every one can eat. Easier said, than done. Do we have enough politicians of integrity to walk away from that? Tune in for the next episode.


Turning Jamaica into Heaven from Hell in terms of waste management: Montego Bay gives some lessons

In the recent past, I've been vocal about the terrible visual and environmental state of our so-called 'second city', Montego Bay: its eyesore of a city centre was the classic image of many of our urban towns, where litter and lack of care for the visual aesthetics seemed to be the standard operating procedure. That it should be as bad as it was in our tourist capital was, for me, a signature statement about how little people cared for, or understood, the importance of the significant part of our national economic livelihood that is foreign tourism. Therefore, I was more than a little thrilled to see someone post on Facebook pictures of a very different Montego Bay: clear, decorous, filled with bins to collect trash.

Now, the immediate challenge is to not let the city centre fall back into its all-too-familiar bad old ways. What would be good would be for the municipality to share with us:

  • What they did?
  • How much it cost?
  • Who were the partners?
  • How much community leadership was involved?
  • Who will be responsible for the maintenance?

There are some other questions. But, in the spirit of sharing the good, so that it can outlast the bad, this simple set of questions ought to answered.

My own view is that we have become the home of many 'bad practices', in the absence of good and clear leadership on a range of issues, of which waste mangement is but one, from the absence of standard provisions of household waste containers, through hand-loading of garbage trucks, to the common practices of all things stacked into a pile, with little or no separation. Some of it is chicken and egg, but ultimately much comes down to a lack of education and understanding of what to do to better manage waste. In the same way that Jamaicas are far readier to burn refuse rather than recycle or reuse, we need to rethink our daily lives to rid ourselves of such ways, and leave behind us each day a better-looking, rather than a worse-looking place.

We have two major problems: waste management in public spaces (common problem of ‘defensible space’); education of people about how better to manage waste in personal spaces. Hardly any Jamaican lives in a dirty or garbage-ridden household. But, people struggle to know what to do with the (inevitable) waste they generate in daily life.

I'd like to see at least every public corporation (including educational establishments) to commit to a set of simple waste mangement practices that involve waster separation and recycling of those products for which we currently have 'markets', eg plastic bottles and paper. We can then build on the volumes they create to create incentives for private sector involvement in recycling and reusing. That would start to deal with a large amount of waste and would also start to re-educate people about how to re-order activities.

Let them eat Johnny cake: a trip around the Exumas

What do the people want? Fun, and sun, and sea, and food, and drink? Yes, all that! Some intimacy? Oh, maybe. Culture, too! Yes, that, too!

But, what is culture in the Caribbean context? We have precious little of historical interest, compared to the great civilizations of the world, like China, or India, or the Aztecs and Mayans of the Americas. Some of our territories have history that can be traced to before the arrival (by accident) of a Spanish sailor and the subsequent arrival of many other Europeans. Some territories mark their existence as being from 1492, and naturally annoy anyone who understands that the lands were there long before Senor Columbus. But, people latch on to all sorts of things when they are floating adrift. But, history there is. Now, I am not going to reconfigure the whole of Caribbean tourism, but am just reflecting on a few days on one of the exotic islands that we have in our hands–The Exuma archipelago.

History is iguanas, rare, and related to dinosaurs. History is pigs that swim. Do your pigs do that, or just crackle on a spit?

History is making the future that did not come naturally from the past, as in importing 1000 coconut palms to adorn a piece of coral that a man wants to develop as an exclusive resort. Are the environmentalists happy with this dramatic change in the eco-system? What can coconut palms create that wasn't' there before, including plant-borne diseases? How odd that these plants that love sandy solid and saltiness were never part of the landscape from much earlier. Island folk know a lot about their environments. What did they know about coconuts?

Now, I clearly do not look like a tourist, in the eyes of the regular Exuman: my family and I are 'natives', meaning we are of the darker tones and our hair is kinky. (Our transport provider was taken aback to see 'natives' waiting on him, though. Fortunately, while he was wriggling out of that little faux pas, we discovered that he was not in fact collecting the right people–we were 5 and he was looking for a party of 10. Now, you think he'd have figured out the mistake a bit more quickly, but, island time is island time, man. So, he turned back and took us to where he had collected us, and went in search of his 'party of 10'.)

Mistakenly, I thought a tourist was ANY visitor, but clearly, there are visitors and visitors. In passing, my money is as good as any many coming from North America or Europe. Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not offended at being called 'a native', so long as the service rendered to me is no less than if I were a 'real' tourist. So, far, that has been the case.

Once we were all on a bus together, heading off to a boat to take us on a 125 mile/8 hour trip around the cays, we were all the same. Sharks bite anyone; wild pigs take bread from, and will kiss, anyone; iguanas take lettuce from anyone–animals tend to be equal opportunity creatures. That some spoke Italian and wrapped themselves in G-strings and 'native' shawls, should not make them different from those who spoke Patois and had crumbs from grouper fingers on their lips. 'We would all sink or swim, together', if our 'Captain Smiley' made any mistakes.

'Look, how blue is the water!' Water isn't blue; it's usually clear. But, depending on the clarity and the depth of the water, the white light has its red, yellow and orange absorbed better by water, leaving blue hues more dominant.

The 'real' tourists I met wanted 'authentic' island experiences. For them, that was food other than hamburgers, fried chicken and fries or another form of fast food they could find in their metropolitan homes. Grouper fingers, fried lobster, peas and rice, cooked by the lady owner: that hit the spot. Coconut tarts, baked by the mother in the home next door. Conch fritters, made by the sister. Does it tastes good? Of course! Everyone was carrying a coconut tart and we knew where they'd bought it. They were so good that the 50 mile round trip to get some extra supplies of tarts and banana bread to take back to the metropolis was more than worth it.

Real tourists like their leisure activities, so our 125 mile trip on the sea to tour the keys was 8 hours of total engagement. Well, the engagement was more bracing against the wind, as we sped over the waves, or putting on snorkels and flippers, or avoiding being dunked by 300 pound hog. I went off to play golf at what is reported to be the longest course in the Caribbean. I loved the front 9, which was friendly, with water everywhere, in the form of little lakes. The back 9 was on a narrow strip of land beside a luxury development, that had the full force of the ocean wind to keep you honest. I hit balls that went 50 yards further than I thought, with the wind, and shots that went half as far into the breeze. Win some, lose some. I was feted, with a cooler filled with light beer: that was a first on a golf course, for me. I and the other madmen out there in the afternoon twilight after 3pm had the best of the day.

But, I got the better of the conditions, compared to the pro golfers who had to tackle the course back in January:

After my round, I spoke with one of the golf course workers–a Jamaican. He explained how Butch Stewart wanted to do things the people want, especially with food: French food = French chefs; Sushi = Japanese chefs, etc. But, guests are encouraged to do something off the site every day, so that their spending can benefit a wider community.

That's the essence of the tourism business, if you want to be successful. If they ask for cake, and you only have bread, bring them cake. But, also give them a chance to touch as many people as possible in a short space of time.

Paradise lost: some reflections on the Bolt legacy–performance, integrity and playfulness

If you're Jamaican in any shape or form, you've probably come through the last 10 days with, at best, some sense of relief–that the IAAF World Championships are over. Whatever you feelings might have been when the events started on August 3, I guarantee that nowhere in your wildest dreams did you imagine half of what befell the Jamaican team, overall, or Usain Bolt, personally.

Let me get some personal business out of the way, first. I went on record last year saying that Dr. Usain Bolt should have gone out on the (unexpected, but welcome) high of double Olympic golds in the 100/200 in Rio. From my viewpoint as a former athlete, it was the best of all worlds to retain that amazing pair of titles for the third time. The legend was cemented. It had the appeal in my mind of then leaving the upcoming IAAF event as an opportunity to say farewell to London, which had treated him so well in 2012 and where good memories galore resided. Dr. Bolt could happily have been an IAAF ambassador, and I imagine ticket sales would have been even better had he been committed to be present at several sessions during the 10 days, even though he would not be gracing the track. He would be there to glad hand and wave and smile and be in many pictures. But, Dr. Bolt and the IAAF and agents and promoters, etc. had other fish to fry, and in my mind went where they did not need to go: the the place where the legacy could be tainted, for no real gain. Fast forward.

Dr. Bolt suffered a series of injuries after Rio and his form was again in question. Defending in London would be a tall order. Then, tragedy struck: Dr. Bolt's good friend, Germaine Mason died in a motorcycle accident on the Palisadoes Road, in mid-April, after leaving a party event with Dr. Bolt. Several weeks of funeral-related activities took precedence over training. I imagine the emotional toll of that tragedy would have been enough to persuade many a person to put off a lot of upcoming events. When training was derailed by some 3 weeks, this also put Dr. Bolt's title defence into a very dicey position. But, he's a man of commitments. He kept his word. Fast forward, again.

Usain Bolt did not run a great 100 meters race in final, though he had looked great in the semis. He came in 3rd, but gold went to… Justin Gatlin, who had strived and failed miserably to dethrone Dr. Bolt in Rio. Now, Gatlin's victory is momentous for one of several reasons that impinge on the Bolt legacy. It would have been that, despite having been found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs, Gatlin had not been able to beat Bolt, even when (again) he had come off an injury-plagued season to compete in Rio. The narrative of how Bolt stayed clean and beat a man labeled as a drugs cheat was firmly in place. Now, we have to deal with all the 'what-if' scenarios underlying a 'Gatlin defeats Bolt' outcome.

I have very strong views on drug-taking in sports. I am for life bans (or for practical purposes, let's say to age 50), not least to remove any question whatsoever that the performance-enhancements could ever be brought into play. I do not want some scientist to tell me in 1960 that these drugs only have a 5 year effect, then for a scientist in 1980 to tell me that the effect may last as long as 10 years, then for a scientist in 2018 to tell me that the effects could be there for 20 years. So, once someone has been caught and convicted of the drugs-taking 'crime', the 'time' they must serve should be 'forever' as an active athlete. That is the ultimate price for having gotten morals mixed up and felt that surreptitiously making the world uneven in your favour should leave you with no rewards. All of the records for the time when it is proved that drugs were being taken, should be expunged, and (though complicated), all the events adjusted to remove the offender's name from them; medals get redistributed etc. Now, while that may go some way towards redressing the balance, it may be that some people suffered permanent loss because they were defeated by cheats. For instance, the lucrative endorsements tend to go to winners, not those who tried had but came second or worse. Sports companies will not or cannot reverse contracts, or take away endorsements and give the money to others backward-looking. That, to me, is one of the graver injustices. So, we remove all of that problem by making it that cheats gain nothing, or near nothing.

But, that is a problem that sports administrations must address and correct; individual athletes cannot do that. In that vein, we can see across the range of professional sports, how varied are the attitudes towards so-called performance-enhancing drugs. Some sports, like golf, have poorly defined policies and poor testing, and end up chasing a player for suspected use of deer antler powder. Other sports, like swimming, are rigorous, yet have shortish time bans and get athletes having to face just-returned cheats and put in a bind about what to do. Some, like Katie Ledecky, make their feelings known publicly and in events; others whisper disapprovals; others say nothing or show approval. Countries like Russia show how massive the 'industry' can become and we know of the whole Eastern European/Soviet structures of sports 'medicine'.

But, the Bolt legacy had the cruelest twist (almost literally) to come. When, he was poised for the glorious end, in a relay, on the last leg, and having to chase men down to win. His body said 'No mas!' Pulled muscle. Crumpled to the ground. Fallen, like he'd been wounded. NOT THIS WAY!

I wont even go into the possible reasons, and if the longer than usual delay in the waiting area was part of the problem. It never had to be.

My enduring memory of Dr. Usain Bolt should not have been his body on the track and him being supported by his team mates. His glory deserved much better. Giving him a part of the track has a funny bitterness to it, don't you think?

Finally, what Bolt's legacy is about is the integrity of the athlete-hero.

We often think we have that locked down, then some serious flaw surfaces: Babe Ruth…Pete Rose…O. J. Simpson…Tiger Woods…Lance Armstrong…Paul Gascoine. We see others and hope and pray that the flaw doesn't surface: Wayne Gretzky…Jack Nicklaus…Arnold Palmer…Roger Federer…Mark Spitz…Virginia Wade…Mary Peters.

It's clear, from reports surfacing in recent days, that some of Bolt's Jamaican team mates lack that essential integrity that is needed to be an athlete-hero. If even one of the stories of seemingly petty infighting is true, it tells us much about what Dr. Bolt meant to Jamaican sport, and what so many have to learn, yet may not be able to absorb. Putting on your spikes, and putting on the uniform of a team is more than dressing up. Playing the part is not about acting, it's about the reality of strong and honest individual character. That an athlete who has been given the honour of representing a nation, let alone a club team or just performing solo in front of an audience, finds it in him- or herself to put him- or herself about that honour is a total disgrace. Like with drugs bans, one sanction should apply: Sayonara.

Dr. Bolt has gone, and his playful genius as a track man will be lost for the immediate future, but let's hope it inspires others to be more than a little natural and playful when pressure is weighing heavily.

Jamaica’s struggles for justice: Things that make you say ‘Hmmm’

I wasn’t sleeping well. Lots of things were going through my head; they all had something to do with crime in Jamaica. Not terrifying thoughts; but, disturbing thoughts that had surfaced from things I read or heard yesterday that involve the commission of crimes and how our institutions present us with answers to the problems crimes create for us.

Patrick Powell, better, or more infamously, knownfor his role as the suspect in the so-called ‘X6 murder’the shooting death of Kingston College student Khajeel Mais. After failing (repeatedly) to surrender his licensed firearm and ammunition, was sentenced to 9 months hard labour. Powell had repeatedly refused to hand over the weapon since it was first requested in connection with the police investigation of the shooting in 2011, a fact the judge called “aggravating”.

  • The judge (Vaughn Smith) also said: “The court is not of the view that a fine would be a sufficient deterrent to other licensed firearm holders not to do what Mr Powell has done,”
  • Powell’s lawyer (Deborah Martin) said: “The weapon is not in his possession. He has given an account of the weapon but that would amount to hearsay.”

The Attorney General, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, on her Twitter account, makes oblique references to possible divisions of Cabinet views on how to deal with crime.

Suffice to say, that some, including seasoned political analyst, Mark Wignall, found this statement more than a little puzzling:

What and where are the ‘safe havens’ and who is providing them, would be an obvious set of questions. Is it merely those in the surrounding communities that are such providers?

More questions than answers.

Police High Command released, at long last, its ‘administrative review’ of operations (in Tivoli Gardens) in 2010. Amongst other things, it exonerates five officers whom the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry argued should not be involved in internal security plans and implementation. The review also criticized the integrity of the Commission, suggesting it was ‘confused’ and ‘biased’. The Public Defender is offended by the actions of the JCF and requests that they withdraw the report. She argues that the review committee has no legal authority to act as an appellate body over a commission of enquiry. The Public Defender has also dismissed as contemptuous some the claims of the committee members that commissioners were confused, biased and convenient in arriving at their conclusion. I must admit that the JCF review sounds like when Orkin have come in to check for termites and tell you that the house timbers need to be replaced, then you call your ‘Uncle George’ to have a look at the timbers and he says ‘Termites? What termites?”.

Some thoughts on crime in Jamaica, and the role of money

I'm not sure how many times one has to say it, but crime (especially, violent crime) in Jamaica won't suddenly cease, because people feel outraged. It will only change when those people who seek and do gain from crime find that to no longer be the case. Like a child wishing to suckle, but having no nipple, the child will tend towards some action that gives satisfaction. That may be a finger or thumb, but it could also be something else, such as a lip–and not necessarily, its own lip. I know! When my first-born was about 3 months old, and pining for hunger, and no breast milk was available, I offered her my bottom lip. She sucked it hard till she sent to sleep. I then dislodged her, and put her into her cot, and when her mother came back and could express more milk, I was glad to know that the episode was likely to be a one-off. But, that episode was one of the clearest example of what a certain sense of hunger needs.

Now, the level of crime in Jamaica cannot be explained in any convincing was as the result of our state of absolute poverty. But, it's clear that some of the crime must stem from a sort of relative poverty, where people feel they are behind relative to others, and want to get that gap closed quickly. Robbery is often the fastest way to close that gap: working a steady job and saving are going to be too slow, no matter how wholesome it may be. At the extreme end of this desire to steal to catch up, is the possibility of eliminating whoever may stand in the way of making those gains anything more than temporary. That leads to the sort of behaviour that we may attribute to gangs, where they lay claim to large physical areas to be able to plunder on a consistent basis. What I have found odd about what goes in in Jamaica, in that regard, is on whom the gangs appear to prey. They focus on their 'own' communities and on adjacent areas where they can put pressure on other businesses to give them goods and services (including financial payments)–that's the nature of extortion.

So, much of the crime comes from a clear attempt to exert power over people, and area, and its activities. It's a form of terrorism. Why people have not risen up against it, is hard to understand, at least in terms of simple numbers of people on the criminal side versus those on the 'community' side. Of course, if the criminals are heavily armed and threaten to be ruthless in any retribution that will be enough to keep most people in place. That's where we have to ask questions about our security forces and their ability to perform the basic function entrusted to them. My conclusion is that they (notably, the police alone) cannot do that. So, the next question must be to what extent do they need other help, and should that other help be temporary or a permanent feature. While, I don't like the implications of this argument, it seems that Jamaica's police are no match for the opposition.

One aspect of violent crime that is puzzling is the sexual and violently sexual nature of some of the crimes. It's puzzling only because, while it is a common feature in war zones, it's not usually common in areas so-called at peace. I go back to the idea that Jamaica is in a form of 'civil war', and in that context some of the sexual violence makes more 'sense' as another element in the display of power. It's bestial; it's tribal; it's been common in many places for centuries. However, it takes a lot of unlearning for it to stop, because, in part, it's easier to continue because some of the 'victims' have actually been 'offered' as prizes.

Let's not pretend that we know parents who offer their children for sex (especially, in an environment where getting goods or services on little or no income is a real struggle–we have poor social support nets). Giving people a 'living wage' wont change a mind set, but it is part of what needs to happen, to unlock some people from a toxic relationship.

Let's also not pretend that children offer themselves for sex, for a range of reasons, including to get experience, to get influence over their peers (a sort of bullying, if you think about what it may 'encourage' others to do, to keep up), to be 'in' with those who are clearly amongst the better and most consistent 'providers' in a society.

What an economist can do is to 'follow the money'. That's what's making crime go around, and in whatever forms it's being made and shared, it has to be curbed.

Crime wouldn't stop on a dime if Jamaica became a cashless society tomorrow. But, it would change many things. One of the best friends of crime is anonymity. Once people start to find that their finances are more in public view a lot of behaviour must change (at least, if the society really imposes penalties or severe consequences for transgressions–a big IF, in Jamaica).

A quick read about 'why cash is king' for criminals should give a clear lesson; cash is often called the 'oxygen' of crime: 'Paper currency is both the motive of many crimes and a facilitator of illegal activity.'

One of the features of any significant amount of time spent outside Jamaica (or other cash-based societies) is the degree to which financial transactions get captured, even if it's the basic transfer of one currency for another–that leaves a clear trace, as even the simplest of cambios has to keep records. (Now, I've been in places where one can exchange currency on the streets, but up the line, the records have to get kept by someone, unless truckloads of money are being transported across borders–which can happen, but rarely.)

I don't think that Jamaica is ready for us to see all over the place 'No cash accepted', but our willingness to stay largely cash-based is something that we need to understand plays into the hands of many criminal activities. Many who are complicit have spending power or gains they cannot explain, which lay largely invisible if in the form of cash.

Solving our crime problem is not a one-dimensional exercise, and the levels and nature of re-education we must go through could take a generation, if not longer. But, in my mind, we have steps available that can help in a push back. Nothing comes without some inconvenience, and moving away from cash in a society that has a heavy distrust for banks will not be easy. So, we are faced with yet another set of dilemmas–as is the way in much of life. So, which of the evils do we want to have to live with?