But the UN Development Programme (UNDP) report, released here, has also outlined a number of recommendations that regional governments, law enforcement agencies, civil society and non-governmental organisations can pursue to bring about a change in the situation.
The report canvassed more than 11,000 people in roughly half the CARICOM member states and consulted with 450 experts across the region to gauge the state of Caribbean people’s security as they went about their daily lives.
It found that less than half of the region’s people felt secure, reaching as low as one in four people in Trinidad and Tobago alone. The study said two out of three Caribbean people felt confident in their police forces to control crime.
But in overwhelming numbers, most Caribbean citizens surveyed – roughly nine out of ten -pointed to education, job-creation and anti-poverty programmes catering to the region’s young people and poor communities as the best crime-fighting strategy.
According to the study, with the exception of Barbados and Suriname, murder rates, including gang-related killings, have “increased substantially” in the last 12 years across the Caribbean, while they have been falling or stabilizing in other parts of the world.
Although murder rates are exceedingly high by world standards – 27 per cent – the report says that Caribbean governments can reverse the trend, calling for regional governments to beef up public institutions and the criminal justice system to tackle crime and violence while boosting preventive measures.
In an overview of the situation, the report suggests “elevated rates of violent crime in the Caribbean may be taken as evidence of social inequalities that restrict the choices to large sections of the vulnerable population.
“Crime may thus rightly be regarded as being a profoundly developmental problem,” the report says.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, who is responsible for security within CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet, suggested the report demanded that the region shifted its national security focus from the state to its people.
“Will we continue to move two steps forward and one step backward? We must be guided by the findings of this report and the central message of this report focuses on the necessary transformation of the relationship between citizen and state and the adoption of a citizen-centred approach to security.
“This constitutes a fundamental shift from the state-centric status quo and this shift is absolutely essential for the developmental process,” she told the gathering.
“The regional focus of the report presents a very unique and crucial opportunity for our countries to engage with each other based on shared experiences and in order to emulate the best practices to be found within the region,” Persad Bissessar added.
She told the launch, attended by at least two Caribbean government ministers, including Antigua and Barbuda’s Dr. Errol Cort, who chairs the CARICOM Council of Ministers for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE), she was looking forward “to the opportunity for fruitful exchanges based on the findings of this report”.
The Trinidadian leader, who outlined the various initiatives undertaken by her own 18-month old People’s Partnership coalition, said that it was important for the region to adopt policies to deal with violence and crime.
The report surveyed 11,555 people across seven CARICOM nations – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
A team led by Professor Anthony Harriott, director of the Institute of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona, conducted the survey and talked to 450 experts in 2010.
Official statistics were also analysed for the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012, “Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security,” which also reviews the current state of crime, as well as actions and policies to address the problem, said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.
“The first time, the Caribbean as such has had this focus in such a report commissioned by us. It looks at the whole issue of citizen security…perceptions of it very much informed by the survey and looks at the impact of insecurity and violence on human development,” said Clark, herself a former prime minister of New Zealand.
The report proposes a variety of measures that acknowledge “human development, human rights and citizen security are interdependent”.
Clark told the ceremony that violence had a serious effect on the socio-economic development of the Caribbean, noting “it limits people’s movement in the communities, it has a direct and indirect impact on their health and their well-being.
“It creates a negative cycle of under development and insecurity. For countries in this region and elsewhere high levels of violence and crime do jeopardise continued development progress and stifle economic growth,” she added.
The new study recommends that Caribbean governments implement youth crime prevention through education, as well as provide employment opportunities that target the marginalized urban poor.
A shift in focus is needed, it says, from a state protection approach to one that focuses on citizen security and participation, promoting law enforcement that is “fair, accountable, and more respectful of human rights.”
The UNDP Citizen Security Survey found that a regional average of 46 per cent of citizens either felt secure or very secure. Barbados led with 79 per cent but one in four people in Trinidad and Tobago felt secure. Among the youth, the regional “security perception” average was 40 per cent and the survey reports that as many as 19.4 per cent of them had been victims of some form of crime over the past 10 years.
Caribbean confidence in the police to control crime averaged 66 per cent. In Trinidad and Tobago, 52.7 per cent expressed “some amount of confidence” in the police and 4.6 per cent said they had “a great deal of confidence.”
The survey findings on “self-reported criminal victimisation” placed this country fourth in the list of countries, with 10.2 per cent of those surveyed claiming they had reported crimes committed against them. The leading country in this area of concern was Antigua and Barbuda with 11.2 per cent.
Second was St. Lucia with 10.9 per cent and Barbados, which scores high on its social intervention programmes, was third with 10.8 per cent. This generated some surprise among researchers involved in the project, given Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago’s high profile for violent crime.
The main recommendations proposed by the report include actions to reduce victimisation, reduce risk and build youth resilience, control street gangs and organised crime, transform the police, reform the justice system and build capacity for “evidence based policy.”
The recommendations are supported by public approval of five main “social interventions” that will have an impact on crime. These include investing more in education with 87.1 per cent support; programmes for young people (91.7 per cent); job creation (92.5 per cent); in poor communities (87.7 per cent) and in reducing poverty (88.8 per cent).
“Levels of insecurity remain high in the region and have a negative impact on human development,” the report states, adding “there is a demand for change that calls for greater attention to crime as a social problem and for the recognition that security cannot reliably rest on the capabilities and performances of law enforcement”.
UNDP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Heraldo Muñoz, said while Latin America and the Caribbean account for 8.5 per cent of the world population, it contributes about 27 per cent of the world’s homicides.
The UNDP said even though the total number of murders in Jamaica dropped after the report’s completion to 1,124 in 2011, a seven-year low, the country has the highest homicide rate in the Caribbean and the third-highest murder rate worldwide in recent years, with about 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
“This is surpassed by only two Central American countries, El Salvador and Honduras with 66 and 82.1 murders, respectively, per 100,000 people,” UNDP said, citing UN Office on Drugs and Crime figures.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the report says that murder rates increased five-fold over a decade, to more than 40 per 100,000 in 2008, and then declined to 36 in 2010.
“Such a situation that we find in all of the region, every Caribbean as well as Latin America has human economic social and political consequences. People’s lives and income are lost, productivity, investment and consumption deteriorate, social capital diminishes and of course the undeniable strengthening and survival of democracy across our region…tends to weaken,” Munoz added.