Navigating the Surge

Addressing escalating crime in the Caribbean.

Ah, the sunny shores of the Caribbean – white sands, turquoise waters and the salty scent of crime in the air. The idyllic paradise of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago (“T&T”), and Haiti is facing a crime wave that’s more than just a blip on the radar. 

The Caribbean region is grappling with an alarming escalation of crime. Although, “the increase in crime has not been huge; it has been gradual, climbing over the past few years and perhaps compounded across all three countries by the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022,” commented the regional security consultant.  

Poverty, unemployment and educational deficiencies provide fertile ground for illicit activities to thrive, compounded by the region’s position as a transit hub for narcotics. “The region itself is a huge transhipment point for drugs coming in from South America and making their way to the US and then to Europe,” fuelling the proliferation of criminal enterprises, particularly evident in gang-related violence in T&T and Jamaica.

Haiti, plagued by political turmoil and endemic corruption, faces additional challenges, such as the “justice system and law enforcement agencies fraught with inefficiencies and corruption.” The security consultant continued, “Gangs engage in extortion, kidnapping, and violence,” worsening its crime predicament.  

In response, local authorities and law enforcement agencies are deploying multifaceted strategies to combat the surge in homicides and criminality. Jamaica employs specialised units to dismantle criminal networks, with their “police service having a shoot-to-kill response.” The regional security consultant expanded, “Community-based programmes aiming to steer youth away from a life of crime. Efforts to improve and reform the justice system are ongoing.”  

T&T focuses on gang suppression, community policing enhancements and significant investments in security infrastructure. Unfortunately, “Jamaica and T&T, are plagued by domestic violence. None of these countries have a sustained plan, however, to tackle the root causes of crime – the social side of things.” Despite resource constraints, Haiti leverages international aid to strengthen law enforcement capabilities, albeit amidst formidable challenges. “Unless Haiti achieves political stability, it will not achieve stability in its crime situation,” reinforced the consultant.

“Unless Haiti achieves political stability, it will not achieve stability in its crime situation.” 

Regional security consultant, Caribbean

However, challenges persist in stemming the tide of crime, raising concerns about Jamaica and T&T descending into the depths witnessed in Haiti. The regional security consultant vocalised that “it is unlikely Jamaica and T&T will reach Haiti’s extreme levels of crime and violence. Both countries are undertaking proactive and continued measures to strengthen institutions and combat organised crime.” 

Vigilant efforts in Jamaica to confine criminal activity to specific areas, safeguarding tourism-centric locales, highlight the delicate balance between public safety and economic imperatives. “Outside of tourism, crime affects largely the transportation, and retail sectors – supermarkets, mini marts, shops etc. all of which are vulnerable.” Nonetheless, scepticism remains regarding law enforcement methodologies, particularly in Jamaica, where the shoot-to-kill policy has eroded public trust. 

The impact of escalating crime reverberates across economic sectors, notably within the vital tourism industry. Declining safety perceptions have led to decreases in tourist arrivals in Jamaica and T&T, resulting in fiscal repercussions and diminishing investor confidence. As the consultant highlighted, “Many Caribbean nations remain cash-strapped due to the pandemic and tourism has been on a slow recovery trajectory.” 

Concurrently, endemic crime undermines the viability of the private sector, leading to increased security expenses as “the cost of crime is increasing the cost of doing business – investment in security guards, even armed guards, camera and alarm systems all have a cost, which is mainly passed on to the consumer and has a cyclical effect in the economy.” For this reason, it is expected that “the private sector, especially the chambers of commerce and trade associations, continue being outspoken on crime as it affects their bottom line,” explained the regional security consultant. Sadly, “Haiti’s volatile situation poses irreparable challenges for their private sector.

“the cost of crime is increasing the cost of doing business – investment in security guards, even armed guards, camera and alarm systems all have a cost, which is mainly passed on to the consumer and has a cyclical effect in the economy.”

Regional security consultant, Caribbean

To address these issues, regional initiatives spearheaded by organisations like the Caribbean Community and Common Market (“CARICOM) and its Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (“IMPACS) are underway. “CARICOM collaborates with international organisations to combat transnational organised crime, mainly drug trafficking. Joint operations, information sharing and capacity building form part of regional efforts,” informed the security consultant. However, the success of such endeavours depends on mitigating resource constraints and navigating the complexities of the regional crime landscape. The takeaway? “Much more needs to be done.” 

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