A regular day drive along the Spanish Town bypass will eventually lead you to one of the symbols of the latest crime-fighting measures being pursued by the Jamaican Government: checkpoints.
Checkpoints, whether political or military, revolve around increasing security within a specific section of a town, city or country. Checkpoints on a whole though are simply a frontline; pitting security forces manning them against the unknown that they encounter. Though they rarely ever affect the broader issue at hand and are more or less temporary in their method of operation, checkpoints have been relied on by every government when their back is against the wall.
These checkpoint “blockades” are manned by well-mannered JDF and JCF personnel. Polite and young, these men are literally staring uncertainty in its face every time they stop a driver; it is in no way an easy or comfortable job.
The glaring reality however is that these checkpoints are only apparatus that lend comfort to Jamaicans and do little real damage to the monster of crime. They are reactionary-based and are easily circumvented. Worst of all, the eagerness of the JDF personnel slowly falls off after the first few weeks of the State of Emergency that brought the checkpoints into play.
The fact is, the likelihood of them catching any criminal is slim, as criminals are not that dumb. Why traverse a roadway that is heavily manned by police and JDF personnel? The roads that have been cordoned all have their alternate routes, many of which are even more favourable options to the heavily congested Spanish Town bypass.
The checkpoints are meant to be a part of the approach to reducing crime in Spanish Town, a long unstable and violence-prone town. This approach is literally putting a band-aid on a festering wound. The social side of the problem and the gang side of the problem, are not being approached in a manner that would see a reduction of crime in the area. The war over sections of the town by different factions for the tens of millions of dollars that it brings will not be stopped by checkpoints. The constant bloodshed and reprisals, led by influential gang leaders, will not be stopped by a soldier asking you to turn on your car’s interior lighting. It can only be stopped by a level of social intervention never before seen in Jamaica.
The raw heavy hand approach has been tried by the Jamaican Government for decades. Historically, the use of heavy police and military force, backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters, has only temporarily slowed crime. The latest example was in 2010 when a massive military operation against the de-facto autonomous enclave of Tivoli, and related gang offshoots islandwide, led to one of the biggest drops in the local crime rate in decades. This effect was largely attributed to gang members going underground to ‘cool off’ for a period of time and did not stop the violence that eventually escalated a few years later.
In effect, changes need to be made to the modus operandi of the Jamaican security forces to have any sort of effect on Jamaica’s crime problem. Until then we will continue to pass by the checkpoints set up to create the facade of security.