“Prevention strategies addressing the root causes of crime hold considerable promise. They tend to involve partnerships among government, city authorities, civil society organisations and residents themselves. Cities that are safe for all people will, in turn, make the world safer place, for fear of crime and violence imprisons people in their homes and makes the realisation of all other human rights more difficult” – Mr. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General.
Each day, crime diminishes the lives of innocent people, restricts their civil liberties and causes fear anger and loss. Crime, like the deadly disease AIDS, has afflicted mankind since Cain murdered Abel and no complete cure has been found as yet. The aim of this article is to share thoughts on the nature of a crime and the role of National Government in preventing crime and tackling its causes.
As a nation, we have had our share of ever-increasing crime – heinous murders, armed robberies, rape and defilement, football hooliganism, domestic violence, fraud, communal violence, vandalism, burglary smuggling, general nuisance, drug/substance abuse, drug trafficking, public disorder etc, etc. As we look closely at our environments, we may notice that criminals have taken over many of our neighbourhoods and communities. Unfortunately, we find in many places that criminals are more in control of the situation than the police. People are finding no shelter from the aggression of criminals.
The condition of our communities today is not different from how prophet Ezekiel described it, “for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence” – Ezekiel 7:3. As a society, we have only been lamenting over the effects of crime and suffering passively. For many years successive Governments have failed to provide leadership in preventing crime and tackling the underlying causes. The blight of criminality and violence threatens to engulf our society; as the crime rate rises, the moral foundations of the nation crumble. What is the answer to the problem of crime and disorder? Can we do anything about it?
Nature of crime and causes
The dictionary defines crime as; A grave offence punishable by law; serious wrong – doing; a very foolish deed, but in the context of this article, ‘crime’ can best be re-defined as any unlawful, anti-social act or acts which give rise to public anxiety, and which interfere with the quality of life of citizens. Crime, therefore, causes fear and interferes with the quality of life. Notwithstanding the foregoing definitions of crime, I wish to add that crime is the victimising of one’s neighbour. Crime is not a disease; it is a collection of inordinate, illegal, harmful and violent acts perpetrated by human beings against their fellowmen.
Ghana police crime statistics (recorded crime) for the past years have only proved to be addition and subtraction of crime figures. However, detection rate has been very low. It is to be noted that most crimes are not reported to the police and media reports on crime have been scanty. Police statistics and media reports are just a fraction of crimes committed nationwide. In the absence of national annual crime surveys and audits, police crime statistics on its own does not provide a comprehensive data on the national crime rate.
Fear of crime
Crime causes fear or public anxiety; for fear of crime imprisons people in their homes and makes the realization of all other human rights more difficult to achieve. And what is fear of crime? It is people’s perceptions that they are at risk of being victims of crime. The prevalence or dangerousness of violence and violent crime gives rise to fear and fear of crime is widespread in most of our cities and some urban areas. The fear of crime has always driven individuals to worry about security, think about ways to minimise risk and act to enhance their personal safety.
Today people in some cities and urban areas go to elaborate lengths to protect themselves – residing in protected residential areas, living in houses designed for security (high walls topped with broken glass or barbed wired), avoiding dangerous areas, attending self – defence classes, buying security equipment and hiring their own human protectors or security guards. Fear is an obstacle in building safer communities as it restricts behaviour patterns and people’s capacity to participate in leisure and other activities, and decreases morale.
There are many underlying causes of crime. Those identified in United Nations Conferences include: poverty, social exclusion, family breakdowns, homelessness, disparity between income and expectations; the exclusion of youth; violence as a means of solving conflict within homes and communities; poorly designed and secured property; easy access to firearms; alcohol and drugs; and increasing impunity and unaccountability. Given these diverse causes, solutions must go beyond law enforcement and criminal justice to incorporate prevention.
Criminals and victims
The criminal is the central character in all crimes. He can be described as a person who has developed a ‘criminal mentality’ and a passion for crime. Most of them are clever and rely on intelligence to plan their activities and act with precision. There are those who commit a crime when the opportunity presents itself and others (hardened ones) who are deliberately seeking the opportunity to commit a crime. Criminals are neither created by God nor pulled down from heaven upon earth. Whether persons are born criminals or bred, should be left to the judgement of criminologists, sociologists and psychologists. Nonetheless, crime can be learned in the home, school, workplace, on the street, from the media and elsewhere by example.
Furthermore, every criminal or violent act is generated in the mind and heart of the criminal before the act is committed either overtly or covertly; that is why it has been very difficult to predict or perceive his intentions beforehand. No wonder, criminals are elusive and have succeeded in outwitting law -enforcement or security agencies on several occasions. What happened in the USA on September 11, 2001, and happening now in Iraq and other violence-stricken countries across the world is a pointer to this fact.
We are not winning the fight against crime because, “the wickedness of man is great in the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” – Genesis 6:5. The fight is not against flesh and blood (the criminal) but against the unseen – evil minds and thoughts of criminals. The application of wisdom (discernment and insight into the heart of things) in tackling crime should be the guiding principle, and not over – reliance on punishment and the power of the gun, or the purchase and use of expensive security devices, equipment or gadgets.
For every crime, there is a victim, or crime are those who bear the pain, loss and anger while most criminals get away with their criminal acts undetected. It is to be noted that the social cost of crime to victims is enormous – physical injury, mental and psychological trauma; loss of man-hours at work or business as a result of time spent on travelling to and from the hospital or clinic, police station or the court as the case may. Other costs include the hiring of a legal counsel, medical and transport expenses.
Victimisation as a personal and community experience has not been well studied in Ghana. There is a lack of knowledge about how communities experience and deal with crime as part of daily living. This is especially the case with the poor, who did not have access to the protection of Government or the ability to pay for private security. Offenders have rights, but do victims? Some victims are unhappy about the way police treat them, and many others end up severely traumatised by the criminal justice system. “If the criminal justice systems of the world were private companies, they would all go out of business, because half of their main customers – that is, the victims of crime – are dissatisfied with their services” – Mr. Jan Van Dijk, UN Centre for International Crime Prevention.
Why crime prevention?
Over the past few decades, crime has skyrocketed, and so have its costs. The nation is spending increasing amounts to maintain law and order in conflict areas well as on the police, prosecution, courts and prisons. Crime control, it is believed uses a considerable percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP). But this spending has done little to reverse crime rates or reform offenders. The number of repeat offenders among former prisoners remains discouragingly high.
With crime stubbornly resisting so-called “punitive” efforts to fight it, there must be a shift to innovative methods of preventing criminality, rather than punishing it. Studies and developments in most developed countries have shown that crime prevention can significantly cut down on offences as well as costs.
The internationally accepted definition of crime prevention is the anticipation, recognition and appraisal of a crime risk and the initiation of action to remove or reduce it”. Therefore, crime prevention is proactive and not reactive; it includes the examination of underlying conditions of crime and disorder problems. It also demands partnerships and a problem – solving approach.
Without a doubt, the only armour against crime is realistic prevention strategies and initiatives designed to reduce or remove the opportunities for crime and the turning of our prisons from ‘factories of crime’ into factories for the transformation of the hearts and minds of prisoners.
Role of government
Crime prevention is faced with a multitude of challenges including high rates of delinquency, violence and insecurity; fears and concerns of the public; lack of faith in the efforts of the police to combat crime; frustration with criminal justice systems; scarce government resources to cope with crime; and the inherent risk to democracy and economic development if sustainable solutions to crime are not found. Against this background, our national government has an important role to play in crime prevention, from developing its own strategies to supporting those of local government and communities.
Since the attainment of independence, successive governments have tended to look to the police, prosecution and the courts to tackle crime; because after all, that is what they are “there” for. None of the past or present governments has found it expedient to adopt a “holistic” or national approach to crime prevention and tackling its causes. Unfortunately, Government, as well as police approach, have been rather reactive and the adoption of ad-hoc measures.
Party manifestoes and state of the nation addresses have not offered any national crime prevention strategy which supports crime prevention through the development of policy and legislation. Never in the history of Ghana has a national crime and disorder survey ever been conducted. There is no community safety strategy at national or local government levels. Even the Ministry for the Interior has remained without any Policing, Crime Research section. Is that progress? On the other hand, crime prevention ranks very low in police priorities.
Many national workshops and campaigns have been held on certain issues; I do not remember a single one held in the recent past to examine crime and disorder critically with a view to developing prevention strategies and initiatives. Even the much-taunted police initiative – The Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, is still at its embryonic stage beset with organizational and operational problems.
As a result of the harm done by crime and disorder and violence universally, national governments in most developed countries including South Africa have taken the lead in developing national crime prevention strategies armed at reducing crime and creating safer communities in their countries. Ghana should not be left out of this healthy approach.
Organizational crime weakens the basis of government and hinders the rule of law and good governance; therefore a national effort to assist in crime prevention and addressing the root causes of crime must begin. The government must play a leadership role and begin with an identified lead organization which develops the objectives, vision and plan of the programme.
To be effective, this agency will need a comprehensive mandate and enough seniority to include other government departments (like Interior, Defence, Justice, Health, Education, Local Government, Environment etc) in the process. There must also be the capacity to mobilise the process through training, the exchange of information, financial resources, human resources and bringing together best practices.
A successful programme will also require an analytical capacity that can undertake research, monitoring and evaluation, influence resource reallocation towards the most effective and economical action, and a communication capacity to engage the public and promote education in schools, colleges and universities. And to create successful crime prevention initiatives, there must be certain fundamental elements, such as policy and legislation, guidelines, coordination, monitoring and analysis and clear roles for national and local government.
Crime is not a simple problem and preventing it is not a simple task. It needs to be determined and coordinated effort across Government, working in partnership with the police, local government, the voluntary sector, civil society organisations and local communities. It needs a range of tactics, covering the spectrum of the crime problem. Crime prevention must be at the centre of the government’s commitment to making Ghana a better and safer place to live.
If we can secure a significant reduction in crime and disorder and a corresponding reduction in the fear of crime, we can add value to every aspect of life, enhance liberty and revitalise our communities. Your Excellency President J. A. Kufour, I am throwing the ball into your court. God protect our homeland Ghana from corrupt, evil and wicked people and transform their hearts and minds.
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