Fri | Jan 28, 2022

‘Band-Aid on sore foot’

• Politics playing big role in crime, say western stakeholders • Cops vow to keep up pressure post-SOE

Published:Sunday | December 5, 2021 | 12:12 AM

With fewer boots on the ground, after the failed attempt to extend the states of emergency, the Area One Police have increased their presence in troubled communities in Westmoreland with a hope of establishing relationships that will aid in their anti-crime efforts.

On November 14, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced states of public emergency (SOEs) in seven police divisions for two weeks, including St James, Hanover and Westmoreland, but did not get the support from the Opposition for the Government’s request of a three-month extension.

The discontinuation of the SOE means that the military no longer has the power of a constable, which therefore affects the force multiplier effect because they cannot be deployed independently.

The enhanced security measure was deemed a success for St James in 2018 when homicide barely crept over the 100 mark, after a frightening 341 killings the previous year. But the Opposition has objected to its continuous use to counter the bloodletting that has seen 1,315 murders across the island up to November 27.

The senseless gang warfare between Cooke Street, Dalling Street, Russia, Dexter, River Top, Gully Bank, Seaton Crescent and other communities in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, has contributed significantly to the 113 killings in the parish since the start of the year.

“The walk-through is twofold, to see if we can lend any guidance to anyone who are criminals,” Area One chief, ACP Clifford Chambers, told The Sunday Gleaner of the recent operation. “Just to remind them that the life of a criminal is a cycle where you get killed by cronies, the other gang; get arrested, charged and go to prison, or are killed in a shoot-out with the police.”

The initiative is also to engage law-abiding citizens in these communities, so they will be encouraged to provide information.

NET FISHING

But publisher and former parliamentarian Lloyd B. Smith believes the time has come for a more sustainable plan for crime. He likens the use of the SOE to net fishing.

“The state of emergency is just a temporary fix and we need to begin to look at a long-term solution, especially in the case of Westmoreland and St James which have a very long history of violent crimes,” he said.

“I likened the SOE to net fishing where you drag in even the innocent who are then psychologically scarred for life because of the experience that they have to go through of being detained indefinitely and no recompense or apology from the State. But there is no meaningful collection of guns, the SOE is like putting a Band-Aid on a sore foot.”

Smith, a former chamber president, believes a gun amnesty would be a more targeted approach to get illegal weapons off the streets. He blames successive governments for the use of the crime issue in attracting support.

“It is the politicians who are to be blamed because they are the ones who come to the electorate and say that they can solve the crime problem, so they put their foot in their mouths and cannot deliver,” Smith charged.

Businessman Davon Crump agrees that an amnesty could be effective, but is calling for the police to be paid better.

“If you increase the policeman’s salary by at least 25 per cent, you will see a reduction in crime, because they will be motivated to produce,” Crump noted.

“The current situation can easily breed corruption, because our police officers are not compensated properly.”

FAILED THE YOUTH

Bishop O’Neil Russell, pastor of Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity in the volatile Cooke Street, otherwise called Twelve Street, who is also regarded as the community leader, said the SOE was ideal for his community.

“What has gone wrong in this country is that both political parties have failed the youth. They fail to create proper employment, and they fail to provide adequate security, but instead abuse the youths and label them as criminals,” said Russell.

“Politics has played a big role in crime in this country. And now Westmoreland is struggling, because there are no jobs and those called for interviews are discriminated against.”

ACP Chambers told The Sunday Gleaner that his men and women will not relent, but argued that the state of emergency allowed the security forces to be better able to engender support and comfort from the person it impacts to come forward.

“We would use that latitude to advise them of the varying means of keeping them safe, such as witness protection. It offered them some sort of comfort in coming forward and giving statements that can form part of an investigation,” he said.

“The other thing that is impacted somehow is the latitude that is provided under the legislation in regard to detention, because we know from intelligence who the players are, how well they are involved, the influence and control they have over the space.”

Chambers said his team will continue to carry out its duties in operational mode, including vehicular checkpoints, person checkpoints, and targeted raids.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com