Criminals capture, rent houses with perks of free light, water
Brazen criminals in inner-city neighbourhoods are renting captured or abandoned premises, fully loaded, free of utility charges for electricity and water, to interested persons and are profiting from encroachment on Jamaica Public Service Company (...
Brazen criminals in inner-city neighbourhoods are renting captured or abandoned premises, fully loaded, free of utility charges for electricity and water, to interested persons and are profiting from encroachment on Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) infrastructure.
The St Andrew South police say they have received reports of this practice in various communities where residents, including gangsters, have trespassed on the grid of the light and power company.
Speaking at Wednesday’s virtual Gleaner Editors’ Forum, Superintendent Kirk Ricketts, commander of the division, said that power theft was a pervasive problem, with criminal actors benefiting from the abstraction of electricity.
“We have information about gangs who capture houses, running people out of their own homes and taking over these homes and trying to rent these homes to other persons in the communities or persons new to the community, and some of these homes will be fully loaded,” Ricketts said.
“Generally, persons within some of these communities see it as the norm to abstract electricity. So it is not being seen as an organised activity by a gang, per se, but generally it is seen as the norm,” he added.
St Andrew South is one of the Corporate Area’s toughest police divisions, populated with many inner-city communities grappling with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and crime.
But the police have concerns that legislation and JPS’s sometimes slow cooperation hinder effective enforcement.
Ricketts said the police are guided by two bits of legislation – the Larceny Act and the Public Utilities Protection Act - in cracking down on electricity theft.
The Larceny Act, he said, required technical and other support from the JPS.
“The Public Utilities Protection Act, on paper, doesn’t demand that the JPS play such a pivotal role. This has to do with trespassing on public utilities.
“The problem, however, [is that] my men, as they go before the courts, our judges are somewhat unwilling to proceed without the JPS being involved,” the divisional commander said.
He also alluded that the JPS might sometimes be overwhelmed with the volume of the problem and may have other priorities.
Anthony Clayton, Alcan professor of Caribbean sustainable development at The University of the West Indies, said both JPS and Jamaica are facing deep-seated social and economic problems.
Clayton said that an estimated 180,000 people stealing electricity using illegal connection, though the majority use low-difficulty strategy of tapping power through throw-ups.
“In some cases, they are demonstrating a lot of ingenuity in how they steal electricity,” said Clayton.
“We have had cases where people use quite sophisticated engineering skills, which has meant that they have been able to keep abreast of all the technical measures that JPS has taken to try and prevent electricity theft,” Clayton said.
The Gleaner understands that the cost of hiring technicians for illegal hook-ups is sometimes minuscule.
“We have link to the ‘light man’ and it nuh cost more than a drink sometimes. Whole a we a poor people, so how much you think we can afford to pay somebody when JPS unplug we?” a resident from a community in St Andrew South told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
“We collect from everybody inna the yard weh ago benefit. Nobody nuh want inna darkness. Sometime you can pay and a next time, a man jus don’t have it,” the resident, who requested anonymity, added.
St Andrew South West Member of Parliament Dr Angela Brown Burke acknowledged that electricity theft was a matter of great concern, but cautioned that wealthy folk were also guilty of the offence.
That’s why she is not supportive of a proposed utility court, citing that the poor would be disproportionately targeted.
However, Ricketts said that anecdotal reports did not suggest that the wealthy were the primary perpetrators.
“Since my tenure, I have not gotten any reports of ‘big people’, per se. What I know a lot of my communities, there is a pervasive issue with abstracting electricity, which involves both commercial establishments within these smaller communities,” Ricketts said.