Crime in the Caribbean: Policing for Profit

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The Economist recently published “Crime in the Caribbean: Policing for Profit” (by M.W.), an article on private security groups, whose guards may outnumber the police on several islands (by three to one in Jamaica, for example).

In May the Guardsman private-security group opened a new command centre in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Snipping the ribbon was the prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller. Looking on were her long-serving predecessor, PJ Patterson; the opposition security spokesman; and Jamaica’s then police commissioner.

Private security is a serious business across Latin America. According to a 2013 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), there are more private security guards than police officers in the region. The Caribbean is particularly fertile ground. [. . .] Fear of violence and property crime is rife; so is distrust of the police. A UNDP seven-country survey published two years ago found less than a quarter of respondents believed their under-resourced police force could control robberies and burglaries; in Trinidad and Tobago, barely one-tenth thought so.

Numbers are fuzzy, but private security guards probably outnumber police by three to one in Jamaica. In Trinidad and Tobago they make up perhaps 8% of the entire workforce. Big companies have international connections, train their staff and deploy technology: Guardsman alone has 75 armoured trucks and 7,000 staff in four countries. Small outfits employ perhaps a dozen untrained guards. Businesses are the main clients. [. . .]

Regulation is patchy on some islands, non-existent in others: the risk of using rogue firms and staff exists. But contracting tasks to reputable operators could free up resources for intelligence-led policing of serious and organized crime. Daily duty in a single low-level courtroom may tie up a dozen or more police, for example. At the more rarefied level, too, the private sector can help. Trinidad’s national security ministry last month announced a partnership with a British security company to strengthen crime-scene management, courtroom techniques and controls on cybercrime.

Michael Aboud is chairman of Amalgamated Security, a large Trinidad-based firm with regional reach which has run prisoner transport for 18 years. He is keen to do more: “There is no aspect of policing the private sector cannot handle. As much as they want to open the door, we will come in.”

Many members of the police are resentful of their private-sector counterparts. “Security guards in this country are better paid than our constables,” says Sergeant Raymond Wilson of the Jamaica Police Federation. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2014/07/crime-caribbean

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