Country Listing

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Incidence of Crime

Jamaican national security concerns under the Seaga government have focused on countering three growing threats: crimes involving firearms, gunrunning, and narcotics production and trafficking. Although violent crime had become a major social problem, none of these phenomena appeared to pose a major threat to Jamaica's national security in 1987. The government was mainly concerned about the adverse impact that violent crime against tourists could have on the tourism industry, on which the island was dependent economically.

The number of reported crimes, especially crimes of violence involving firearms, began growing during the 1960s and escalated sharply in the early 1970s. According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica, however, in 1986 the number of reported crimes decreased for the first time in several years, going from 53,066 in 1985 to 49,511 in 1986. Although violent crimes against individuals declined from 21,123 in 1985 to 19,301 in 1986, reported murders increased slightly, going from 434 in 1985 to 449 in 1986. Shootings declined in 1986 by about 100; there were 1,050 reported cases during the year. The majority of murders in 1986 (46 percent) resulted from domestic disputes. Other murders in 1986 were perpetrated under circumstances that included the following: 18.7 percent in association with other crimes such as robberies; 10.9 percent in revenge or reprisals (as compared with 6.9 percent in 1985); and 3.8 percent in drug-related activities (as compared with 2.3 percent in 1985).

Violent confrontations between police and crime suspects were frequent, and criminals often possessed firearms. Breaches of the Firearm Act (illegal possession) continued to increase in the early 1980s, from 842 reported cases in 1982 to 1,312 in 1985; incidents declined to 1,258 in 1986. Security forces recovered more than 2,700 firearms, including 126 M-16 and 7 M-14 assault rifles, in 1977-84.

In the 1980s, violent crime continued to be most intense in the Kingston-Saint Andrew district, which usually accounted for about half of all reported cases. In general, law enforcement agencies did not adequately control crime. Beginning in the late 1970s, mob killings or lynching of thieves increased, especially in rural areas. In 1982, 226 cases were reported; prosecution of vigilantes was rare.

Much of the increased crime, particularly petty theft and pilferage, was attributed to poverty and unemployment. Gasoline price rises in January 1985 led to riots that left ten dead and fifteen shot and wounded. Although Seaga dismissed the protests as the work of extremists, 53 percent of Jamaicans and 66 percent of Kingston residents who were polled sympathized with the rioters. Violent crimes against tourists in the north coast increased dramatically during the 1986-87 tourist seasons, with most incidents involving armed robberies.

An increasing number of crimes, including major offenses such as breaking and entering, larceny, and felonious wounding, were being committed by juveniles or teenagers (those between the ages of fourteen and seventeen). The number of juveniles brought before the courts in 1985 increased by 9 percent to 2,599. Those in need of care or protection (1,004) comprised the largest group brought before the courts, whereas those charged with wounding and assault (571) and larceny (516) comprised the other categories. Some juveniles were tried in regular courts rather than in juvenile courts.

Data as of November 1987