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Crime in SVG: The Development-Insecurity Nexus

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by Dominic McGregor Brisbane

Much debate has centred on the state of crime in St Vincent and the Grenadines in recent times. For 2014, SVG saw an overall reduction in reported crimes from the previous year; however, there was a general increase in gun-related offences, with that year setting an historic record for homicides in our small island.{{more}}

While much of the recent discussion surrounding crime has focussed on discrediting the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) for their selfless endeavours, this publication serves to present an alternate view to the traditional way we perceive criminal activity.

In the modern era, you will be hard-pressed to find a state in which economic growth and development do not coincide with a general increase in criminal behaviour. In academic and policymaking circles, this phenomenon is known as the ‘Development-Insecurity Nexus.’ In any contemporary state, economic growth, urbanization, and the advancements of basic standards of living are never spread evenly across the board. Rather, some social groups and communities will tend to develop at a quicker rate than others; this is the natural order. This does not mean that the general standards of living won’t improve expeditiously throughout the country, but instead, suggests that development is somewhat discriminatory in nature, and will always favour particular regions and zones. Resultantly, a level of socio-economic inequality is generated between the rapidly advancing regions and communities and the slowly developing groups. This inequality is physically represented in the formation of slums on the outskirts of urbanized or urbanizing districts; and over time, the expansion of the built-up domains may eventually impinge on the less developed localities, contributing to social displacement, overcrowding and other unfavourable living conditions.

Beneath the surface, the onset of social inequality can have severely crippling psychological effects on the collective psyche of individuals who reside in perceivably deleterious situations. This is not to say that these social minorities have not experienced an improvement of their general standards of living over time, but rather, the modest improvement of their living conditions is overshadowed by the exponential growth witnessed in other parts of society, leading to a sense of demotivation, disillusionment and indignity. This creates a negative contagion which stigmatizes individuals living under these conditions and isolates them from the urbanizing society, ultimately limiting access to employment opportunities and inhibiting prospects for self-actualization. Eventually, these communities become fertile breeding grounds for criminal activity, as isolated minorities desperately seek alternative means of wealth creation to support their ongoing lifestyles.

The management of crime in any modern democratic society falls under the realms of broader security management in which many participants play an integral role. To this end, while much responsibility rests on the executive powers of the police constabulary to enforce the law, a holistic approach to risk-sharing must be taken to support this process. The provision of security is a multidimensional function which must incorporate stakeholders in the ‘wider security context,’ including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media houses, utility companies (including telecommunications), and other private corporations. Altogether, these entities form an integrated network to support community awareness, engagement, relief and other activities that contribute to the national security apparatus. On this front, much credit must be given to the private sector for their ongoing support of the RSVGPF and National Commission on Crime Prevention’s (NCCP) activities such as ‘Pan Against Crime,’ events hosted by the various NGOs, such as LOV’N’SVG, as well as outreach programmes by various religious organizations, youth groups etc. At the same time, while private sector entities must be applauded for their efforts, greater support is needed to further strengthen these platforms for community engagement. This form of corporate social responsibility not only builds brand equity at the community level, but helps to add real value to the lives of various consumer groups upon which these companies depend. Without peace there cannot be prosperity, and to this end, it may be beneficial to private companies to incorporate anti-crime sentiment as part of their marketing campaigns. Moreover, effective risk management practice dictates spreading opportunity equally throughout the system; therefore, companies should refrain from the traditional practice of stigmatizing persons who reside in perceivably ‘bad’ parts of society, and be impartial in their recruitment processes. Quite often, people who have functional skill sets are overlooked for particular jobs, based on the fact that they live in the ‘ghetto;’ yet these same individuals may have the potential to become indispensable assets within any organization. Individuals who bear the responsibility for staffing should therefore be aware of, and remove these elements of cognitive bias which serve to create further social inequality and injustice, and ultimately contribute to crime.

The management of public perception is a critical component of the provision of security at the individual, organizational and national levels. As such, newspaper editors, independent journalists, radio announcers, and other operatives within the media industry must acknowledge and embrace the fact that they have a critical role to play in the delivery of state security. As highlighted by the CARICOM’s Crime and Security Strategy, “profit, power and prestige are the primary motivators of criminal activity” within our region. As it relates to the element of prestige, individuals gain notoriety and fame within their communities for engaging in criminal behaviour, and as such, now may be the ideal time for us to consider the way in which criminality maintains ‘front page status’ or prominence in our various media sources. Although this practice attracts maximum interaction from the intended audience of the particular media outlet, it also serves to give criminals a level of fame, and ultimately perceived power within certain communities. And while subjugating reports of criminal behaviour to a less mainstream status does not directly aid with eliminating acts of criminality, it does indirectly reduce the prestige motivator to a certain degree. Furthermore, amplifying coverage of criminality not only serves to tarnish the reputation of our country in the international domain, but may also have negative psychological impacts our local police force, on whom we so heavily depend to maintain social order, peace, and security. While freedom of expression and freedom of the press remain bulwarks of our democratic system, members of the media should also display temperance and self-censorship while undertaking their civic duties, as they too have a critical role to play in the delivery of security.

Effective community engagement on security issues will not be possible without support from the general society, and to this end, it is pertinent that every individual realizes and accepts that they have a critical role to play in the establishment of social order. The police have been traditionally faced with a lack of public support, which creates much difficulty in the provision of ‘law and order,’ and as such, we in society must appreciate the role that our actions, and inactions, play in fostering criminal behaviour. We need to be more forthcoming with information, as well as supportive of the many community engagement activities spearheaded by the RSVGPF, the NCCP, and the NGOs, such as LOV’N’SVG. Furthermore, in each community, we should ‘be our brother’s keeper’ by displaying general situational awareness, engaging in community watch programmes, and reporting any suspicious activity to our neighbours and the authorities.

We can, therefore, see that in order to successfully combat crime, a broad strategy involving many key stakeholders is needed. Often, we tend to view an escalation in criminality as a result of an ineffective police force, but this is not the case. As previously stated, the increase in crime is a negative by-product of the process of development, and in order to successfully manage this increase, we need to change the way we think about development and introduce specific policies to tackle rising inequality within particular areas of society – a topic which I will cover in depth, at a later date. As Einstein once famously said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Let peace and love reign!

(Dominic McGregor Brisbane is a Vincentian residing in the United Kingdom)

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