The War On Violent Crimes
By Gbe Sneh
There have been several articles, commentaries, and editorials decrying the spiraling crime rate in Liberia. Many have cited administrative failures and lack of UNMIL remedial initiatives as reasons for the existing condition on the ground. It is here acknowledged that the finger pointing is right on target. However, we cannot leave it at that, while Monrovia and the rest of the country remains under siege of criminal violence. Therefore, the attempt here is to follow up on a suggested measure that could help in alleviating the plight, given the latest development on the ground.
The press release from the Justice Ministry in which Minister Johnson-Morris incites the people to organize themselves to fight against crimes in their neighborhoods is right on the money. However, let’s refrain from calling the watch groups “vigilantes”, the reason having to do with the connotation of the word, which could very easily be exploited by some. Neighborhood Crime Watchers would do just fine for a name.
About the release, we are only concerned whether its dissemination is far reaching. If its release occurred in some little corner of Monrovia, that would not be enough. Minister Johnson-Morris has to embark on a program similar to the periodic radio talk show, “Conversation with the President”. The sensitization phase of this solicited public effort to help fight crime can be launched by allotting some air time to the Police Chief or the Justice Minister. A commentary, followed by caller interaction, could yield awareness, and hopefully generate public interest in the formation of neighborhoods crime watch. Updates given in the same manner would keep the program on the front burner..
It is fine, and even desirable, that the neighborhoods take the initiative, but let there be some input by law enforcement. This brings us to phase two - organization - where the input of law enforcement is key. Let’s not just tell the people to form crime-watch groups, as disorderly units, mob justice, could crop up to compound our problems. The task must be carried out with the oversight of law enforcement.
If the vastness of Monrovia, along with a scarcity of resources, is making it a daunting task to organize the neighborhoods into crime watch units, then let’s start by identifying the crime spots, and picking a few for pilot projects. Just as we have begun to take back the rubber plantations, one at time, we can take that as a cue to free our neighborhoods of crime, block by block.
Monrovia under bright lights is half the battle won against crime in that city. Should we, in hind sight, have earmarked in the budget, more funds for expanding electricity in Monrovia? Should we have appropriated funds to fight crime, a pressing need? Well, that one is like spilling oil; it cannot be picked up. The 2006/2007 budget is history. We have already garnished our revenues to defray phantom travel allowances, at a clip of USD 1.7 million annually. Just multiply 94 legislators by USD 1,500 monthly by 12 months! Now, how much more light could Monrovia get with just half that amount in order to help save it from the darkness of crime? Mixed priorities? Definitely!
Anyway, let’s go back to fighting crime with what we have. What we are hearing is that courts around the country are letting criminals walk. That is not what a crime watcher wants to hear. If these criminals are made to walk due to failure on the part of prosecution to present evidence, then evidence gathering must be taught to crime watchers. If court personnel are taking bribes, they must be flushed out and dismissed. If jury tampering is the reason, efforts must be made to thwart that. If a prosecutor is weak, he/she must be replaced. Needless to say that these measures are necessary for crime watch empowerment. Crime watch thrives on seeing convicted criminals locked up, not detained for a few days, then released back into the neighborhoods,.
For those areas that have become notorious for violent crimes, crime watch efforts must be backed by SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units from UNMIL, and by sting operations from LNP. The issue of whether police should carry weapons or not needs to be urgently decided in favor of carrying them. Sting operations cannot be conducted bare handed against armed robbers. We don’t have Bruce Lee to train the police force to do that. After all, why hire a police, if that police cannot be trusted with carrying a fire arm? What is being done during the hiring screening process?
The citizens crime watch idea is a good one, very effective if organized well. It is a proven deterrent of crime. So, let the Justice Minister and the Police Chief jumpstart the program with a radio talk show as suggested. Let‘s not just say it; let’s do it.
Finally, we are making a special appeal to President Sirleaf to get involved in this program. We need to tap her experience in organizing citizens for the common good. Did she not start “MESUAGOON” (a co-op, with the people working together to help themselves)? At the end of the day, it is her administration that is characterized by violence; she is the captain of the sinking ship.
To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: http://www.theperspective.org/submittingarticles.html