Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Community Policing and the "Culture of System-Beating": The Honorary Game Wardens and Fisheries Inspectors of the Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica, West Indies.

by Peter Espeut,
Executive Director, Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, Jamaica

Efforts at the conservation of the natural environment often fail - even where there is adequate environmental legislation - because of non-compliance with these regulations, and the high cost of enforcement. Non-compliance may have a variety of causes: e.g. profit, lack of environmental awareness, a don't-care attitude towards the environment, lack of an alternative, damaging behaviour may be cheaper or easier than environmentally-friendly behaviour, and the absence of deterrence due to the lack of enforcement.

Each of these causes of non-compliance - and the many others - requires a different strategy, and the natural resource manager must have a number of specialized arrows in his quiver designed to deal with particular problems, including environmental awareness and motivation initiatives, and advice re alternative technologies and income sources. In poor countries where the population often increases faster than jobs, and poverty drives people to unsustainably exploit natural resources, the enforcement of compliance must be done sensitively, and must not appear to be repressive.

But in the final analysis, after all other the strategies to produce compliance have failed, effective enforcement measures must be in place, first to act as a deterrent (which is a compliance strategy in itself) and then to visibly identify, apprehend and prosecute offenders. If there is no enforcement, then there will be no incentive to comply.

There are, of course, different ways enforcement may be approached, and not all may be expected to be equally successful. The environmental degradation and lack of compliance with environment regulations for which Jamaica is famous, has taken place in the context of the traditional top-down big-stick approach used in the last few centuries. A few historical comments may be useful.

Being a slave society before 1834, societal order was maintained by the local militia raised by the plantation owners and their white staff. Jamaica's police force was formed in 1865 after a major rebellion by former slaves which caused severe damage to life and property in the eastern end of the island. Their grievances were legion, but centered on injustice in the justice system: because of a property qualification, judges, prosecutors and juries were all comprised of plantation owners - their former slave masters (the system has been called a plantocracy) and seldom could former slaves win a case in court. The planters controlled the formal economy, and to protect their labour supply they severely constrained the options for social and economic advancement of the vast majority of Jamaicans (disempowerment). In the reforms which followed, a professional magistracy was created (a positive move) but a constabulary force was established basically to protect the privileged.

Distrust of the police and a desire to beat "the system" which is perceived to be unjust, are almost written into the genetic code of working-class Jamaicans. Stories about the escapades of the Jamaican folk hero "Anancy" (who migrated to Jamaica with Akan-speaking slaves from the area now known as Ghana) is a survivor who avoids direct confrontation (he would lose) but beats the system in the end through guile, deceit and trickery. Anancy is widely imitated, and community members cover for each other. In this context, there is almost a "culture of system-beating" in Jamaica at all levels, even among those whose ancestors mostly hail from Europe rather than Africa. No wonder Jamaican environmental laws are observed largely in the breach. No wonder Jamaica is judged to have the highest rate of deforestation in the world, and the most overfished waters in the Caribbean.

And so the challenge of natural resource management is not just to deal with biophysical issues but also to contend with the legacy of Anancy and plantation society: disempowerment and the "culture of system-beating". These are socio-cultural problems which biologists are not trained to solve, which underscores the often-made but often-ignored point that natural resource management is more of a social science than a natural science.

The "Culture of System-Beating"

People seek to beat a regulatory system that belongs to somebody else, that operates in someone else's interest, or is perceived to do so. When a system of laws and regulations operates or is perceived to operate in one's own interest, it may reasonably be expected that compliance will increase. And so the first strategy towards increased compliance is to create within the users of the natural resources a sense of ownership of the laws and regulations.

For fisheries management within the Portland Bight Protected Area (see previous Forum postings [with USERNAME csi and PASSWORD wise]: http://www.csiwisepractices.org/?read=53 and http://www.csiwisepractices.org/?read=448) this was done in the following ways:

At the end of this process, the fishers organizations - and the individual members - own the regulations, and do not feel they have been imposed from above. Being their regulations, they are avid advocates for their promulgation and enforcement.

The weakness in the process is that not all fishers are members of the fishery associations at the landing sites, and as would be expected, the beach meetings to get comments on the proposed regulations were not attended by all members and non-members. Some of the main malcontents and those who use destructive methods of fish harvesting, did not attend, or sniped from the sidelines. It does not take too much foresight to predict that they will not adhere to the regulations once they become law, and will test the effectiveness of the enforcement mechanisms. If they are not sanctioned, then others will be motivated to circumvent the regulations.

This latter observation does not invalidate the process, for it is unrealistic to expect otherwise. In fact, because the community of fishers and ancillary occupations support the fisheries management regulations, they will apply peer group pressure to the defecting group, will not support them or cover for them, and may even turn them in. Success in defeating the "Culture of System-Beating" is not to be found in the absence of law-breaking, but in the absence of community support for law-breaking. When persons are caught and justly punished there will be no public outcry or sympathy for the offenders. When the regulations lead to improvement in the health of fish stocks - and to increased catches and income - the sustainability of the success of the process will be assured.

The Opposite of Disempowerment

It is trite to say that the opposite of disempowerment is empowerment, which has been a slogan and rallying cry of the development NGO community for over two decades; but what does empowerment mean in the real world and in this context?

Even when the local community owns the regulations, some may still resent outsiders coming in and arresting their relatives and friends for non-compliance. What better way to cement the new culture of compliance and natural resource management than to empower the community leaders as enforcement officers?

Using a provision of the Wildlife Protection Act and the Fishing Industry Act, some fifty fisherfolk were officially appointed "Honorary Game Wardens" and "Fishery Inspectors" by Jamaica's Head of State, the Governor-General. These Acts convey powers of arrest (without warrant if the enforcement officer witnesses the offence; and powers of search without warrant of any vessel the enforcement officer believes has been used to commit an offence, or contains a catch obtained illegally; and powers to impound any vessel if any evidence is found. These are serious powers, and certainly qualify as empowerment.

C-CAM provides three days of training annually to all Honorary Game Wardens and Fishery Inspectors - in the provisions of the laws they enforce and in the mechanics of making an arrest, taking a statement, preserving evidence and testifying in court. It is made clear to the trainees that compliance is the objective - not making arrests - and numerous warnings have been given to encourage future adherence to the laws and regulations.

Empowering community leaders in this way reinforces their authority, and strengthens the effectiveness of the fisheries organizations themselves.

A big fear associated with this approach is that Honorary Game Wardens and Fishery Inspectors might abuse their authority. Careful selection of suitable persons, thorough training, and close supervision by C-CAM have resulted in not one case of abuse of authority, or false arrest, since 1996, and a 100% conviction rate in those cases which have gone to court!

Another fear has been that Honorary Game Wardens and Fishery Inspectors would excuse their friends and relatives and harass their enemies, or take bribes. This is discussed during the training, and no case of this have been observed. In fact, the reverse has been found. Honorary Game Wardens and Fishery Inspectors advise their relatives and friends not to embarrass them by committing an offence, as they would be forced to personally arrest them so as to prove they are not corrupt. This is especially true of the female Honorary Game Wardens and Fishery Inspectors who have warned their partners, sons, sons-in-law and nephews. This strategy has provided effective peer-group pressure which is increasing compliance with existing laws; it can be expected to increase compliance with the Portland Bight Fisheries Regulations once they are promulgated.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the hard enforcement cannot be done by these community volunteers. Already some have been threatened with bodily harm, and they have been advised to make a full report of all observations to C-CAM and take no further action. No Honorary Game Warden or Fishery Inspector is expected to place life or limb in danger. At this time they are not insured. The protected area will benefit from full-time Protected Area Rangers will full police powers who will follow up on the intelligence provided by these local "eyes and ears".

Community Policing

In many parts of the world, getting communities to police themselves is being encouraged. The approach being taken in the Portland Bight Protected Area is a version of this, and should advance the discourse. This approach has potential to be effective for other types of offences such as traffic violations and breaches of health and planning regulations.





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