THE PROCLAMATION of the anti-gang legislation has raised great expectations. But it is time we stop thinking about crime as a finite thing that will end once a magic wand is waved. Unrealistic expectations will get us nowhere. We must instead tackle crime by addressing the breakdown of our neighbourhoods, using a range of tools and not just one piece of legislation.
For sure there is a need for the anti-gang legislation. A large number of crimes taking place daily bears the hallmarks of gang activity. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume the newly revamped law will make a big difference.
During debate of the Anti-Gang Act, both the Government and the Opposition sought to flex their muscles to convince the population each had what it takes to keep criminals at bay. Ironically, both were wrong. For no single party or group can solve this problem. All hands must be on deck.
Without the proper resources in the Police Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judiciary, the Prison Service and watchdog bodies such as the Police Complaints Authority and the Police Service Commission, nothing of moment can be achieved. Those resources are not just financial, they also relate to skills, productivity and, most importantly, morale.
Legislation giving prosecutors the power to charge gang members with offences is certainly a useful feather in the cap of officers. But it distracts from the deeper origins of crime. As the criminologists would tell us, crime is rooted in social dynamics. According to a 2009 study of 300 Chicago neighbourhoods, published in Justice Quarterly, “social disorganisation fuels both violent and nonviolent crime.” Local studies and reports also come to a similar conclusion.
As long as social disorganisation and rampant inequality remain a feature of our society, criminals will find a way to continue their modus operandi. We must, therefore, tackle crime by tackling big differences in wealth as well as the seemingly irreversible breakdown of our neighbourhoods.
This means the focus should be on both the bigger picture as well as the finer details. Sweeping legislative reform is one thing, but local plans targeting the needs of specific neighbourhoods are equally important.
Thus, we urge all to adopt realistic expectations; to not get complacent; to adopt measures literally closer to home; to be holistic in outlook.