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Shooting at the crime report

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The way the Selwyn Ryan-led crime committee was conceived and announced perhaps influenced the outcome of this initiative. The committee was announced following an outcry over images of young, urban African youth being piled onto the trays of police vans during the 2011 state of emergency. 


The PM announced the committee while arguing in Parliament for an extension of the SoE. It was a hastily conceived idea, and one that sought to react.


The committee was to report in six months; that was 15 months ago. There were stories of Cabinet not approving the money sought by the committee; Ryan himself alludes to funding challenges by thanking two people in the AG’s and PM’s offices for helping “to access the funds which were required from Cabinet to…begin work on the project” and thanking the committee’s secretary/consultant for working with no pay for “the five months before funding was available” (p 99).


Then there was the composition of the committee—no criminologist, statistician or community activist—and insufficient time and scope to convene focus groups in communities across the country. So to be fair, the committee’s circumstances were challenging, which is the only explanation I can formulate at the moment for a rather unhelpful 437-page report.


The long report’s shortcomings are small and large. I understand why Ryan attempted to label it a draft; it is poorly edited (excessive typos, paragraphs repeated—eg p 154) and the various sub-sections do not cohere. Rather than a lucid tome with integrated parts, it seems discrete parts were written independently and bound together, resulting in structural coherence in the arrangement of chapters and sub-chapters under generic prefaces; but the intelligence—ie the analysis—does not cohere. 


The significant deficiencies in the report derive from the latter.


Taking considerations of ethnicity as an example, the report reinforces major stereotypes of Africans and Indians, even as some of its findings contradict those stereotypes. There is a finding that Indian youth incarcerated at Golden Grove in 2011 numbered 82 out of 266 inmates, and a derivative conclusion that “the percentages of Indians in relation to Africans might well have been significantly different were it not for the fact that Indians find it easier to access bail since they command more movable wealth than do Afro-Trinis.”


Neither in the executive summary (p 59) nor in the corresponding section of the compendium of papers (pp 154-159) is this supported by data. In fact, the data quoted contradict the conclusion: Dr Ralph Henry’s 1997-1998 study on poverty finds that “Indians were heavily represented among the rural poor and Africans among the urban poor;” and a 2005 Survey of Living Conditions found that African heads of households earn more per year than Indian heads of households, that Africans earn higher monthly incomes than Indians, and that although more Africans than Indians live in poor areas more Africans than Indians also live in high-income areas (p 154).


The available data are limited, outdated and with caveats, but even so point to a much more complicated economic reality than the report findings which ultimately mobilise stubborn stereotypes of the poor African and the wealthy Indian.


In an astonishingly unscholarly paper, The Indian Dilemma, domestic violence is identified as a principal challenge among Indians. There is an abundance of literature that establishes the prevalence of domestic violence across all cultures, classes and countries but the report persistently associates it, for the most part, singularly with Indians (pp 11, 18, 19, 21, 30, 40, 41, 48, 160-165); all those references derive from that one paper which contains no data.


Meanwhile, data in other sections of the crime report itself believe this simplistic and narrow conclusion: data from a questionnaire survey conducted by the crime committee found that 40 per cent of respondents living in hotspot areas witnessed violence at home two to five times within the last 12 months, and 30.9 per cent more than ten times (p 428); domestic violence is also identified as a feature of the family backgrounds of young men involved in street gangs in the cited UNDP’s 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report (p 175). 


The consequence of this loose conclusion is that were Government to act on this report, a substantial percentage of resources would be allocated to Indian communities—ignoring that domestic-violence interventions must also be equally directed at African and other communities.


Based on one interview with a police officer in central, The Indian Dilemma concludes that alcohol abuse is a particular crisis among Indians. Again, no data is presented and no comparisons conducted, yet this conclusion is repeated throughout the report (pp 19, 30, 40, 41, 48, 160-165).


So far, I have read some 150 pages of the report and these are but a few of the analytical holes in those pages. Persistent self-attribution, which helps to account for the absence of fresh perspectives; outdated data; unqualified use of newspapers as data sources and unacknowledged contradictions that would have enriched the findings are already evident in the other pages I have browsed but not yet studied.


As a finished product, the report is unhelpful. It can, however, be useful as a starting point for much more work and proper scholarly attention. If this report were submitted by a postgraduate student to any of the academics on the committee, I would hope that they would honestly and encouragingly comment, as I am doing now: “Good start. You did a lot of work but you now start. Take some time, re-read what you have written with fresh eyes, and return with a proper research project.”


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