Chambers: Sustained multi-agency cooperation needed to curb gun, drug trafficking
Following the recent seizures of two large caches of guns and ammunition in Montego Bay, St James, along with law enforcement’s continued thrust against the cocaine trade in the western city, the local top brass is advocating for a sustained multi-agency effort to break both criminal enterprises.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Chambers, the commanding officer for the Area One Police Division in western Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner that the authorities cannot afford to become lax in the fight to bring perpetrators of gun and drug smuggling to justice.
“The fact that we are a tourism destination is one thing, but it doesn’t mean that we ought to lack our security awareness, because this can have consequences and result in sanctions by international organisations. So it is important that we remain on top of these as best as we can, to ensure that we maintain our international ranking as it relates to the confiscation of drugs and ammunition moving through our ports,” Chambers said resolutely.
His declaration follows police operations at the Montego Bay Wharf on January 27 and February 3, which resulted in the seizure of a combined 72 illegal firearms and multiple rounds of ammunition.
On January 27, the St James police seized 22 illegal firearms to include 21 Glock pistols and a Cobra revolver, along with ammunition at the Montego Bay Wharf. The guns and ammunition were found in a container which had arrived from the United States during an operation assisted by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
That find was later surpassed on February 3 with a larger firearm seizure at the wharf, this time netting 60 firearms to include 55 handguns and five rifles.
While no arrests have been made in relation to either gun find, Chambers praised the efforts of the various law enforcement stakeholders who came together to carry out both operations.
“I am concerned that these guns and ammunition are coming into Jamaica generally, and more particularly St James, but I am also encouraged that the security operatives are in a position where they are able to intercept these illicit items. I am encouraged by these seizures, and I am also encouraged with the joint work that is taking place between the respective stakeholders, our overseas partners, immigration, customs, and our local police officers,” said Chambers.
He added, “The investigators have been following some good information, but no arrest has been made, specifically as it relates to the shipment of the items. But from my standpoint, I am just encouraged by the level of interception and the working relations between us and the stakeholders, and more importantly, the speed at which, having discerned these activities, that they are brought to the attention of the police.”
The St James Police Division has had a history of gun finds of similar magnitude, such as the seizure of 13 handguns, six high-powered rifles, and more than 470 assorted rounds at the Freeport Wharf on January 10, 2021. And the discovery of three high-powered rifles, two handguns, and over 100 rounds of ammunition in a refrigerator at the wharf eight days later.
At that time, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang estimated that 200 illegal firearms were smuggled into Jamaica on a monthly basis.
In 2022, 796 illegal firearms were seized in Jamaica, which the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) said was the highest gun seizure since 2017.
The gun is the weapon of choice for approximately 85 per cent of all murders committed in the country.
STEMMING THE DRUG TRADE
In addition to the importation of illegal guns, the trafficking of cocaine has also been a major headache for law enforcement in western Jamaica over the years, with multimillion-dollar drug busts taking place at the Sangster International Airport and elsewhere in Montego Bay.
Recent examples of dents being made in the local drug trade include last April’s seizure of $88 million worth of cocaine along with a large sum of United States and Canadian currencies during an operation in the Coral Gardens community, for which a global-level probe is now under way.
There was also last November’s arrest of British national Ashanta Ferguson after she was reportedly held at the Sangster International Airport with $9.5 million worth of cocaine in her luggage.
During Ferguson’s bail hearing in the St James Parish Court on November 28, 2022, presiding parish judge Kaysha Grant complained that the cocaine trade had become so prevalent in St James that traffickers were allegedly using courier services to carry out their illicit activities while defying the authorities’ efforts to stem the practice.
“This is the parish that we have seen all kinds of drug exportation cases, and what is popular is people using DHL and FedEx to transport drugs. The drug is so valuable that there are contingencies that are put in place if you are held with it,” Grant said at the time.
Commenting on that observation, Chambers told The Sunday Gleaner that the recovery of drugs at ports of entry is multifaceted, with alleged traffickers often using ingenious methods to accomplish their goals.
“Had the matter and the volume of those matters not been in court, such a comment [made by Judge Grant] would not have been made. It tells us that the interceptions are taking place, and our investigators and other persons at the airport are working well. The recoveries are threefold, as there is passenger recovery, cargo recovery, and avionic recovery,” said Chambers.
“With regard to cargo recovery, we are seeing that huge amounts of cocaine are sometimes neatly packed in yam, carvings, and breadfruit, and there is also fraudulent display of seasoning products with cocaine neatly packed inside.”
He further noted, “With regard to passengers, we have insertion in body cavities, or ingesting, and we have situations where they are neatly strapped to the thighs and it would be clothed over to give the appearance that the person has nothing.
“With regard to avionic recovery, these are in the areas of the planes with the electrical components, which can be dangerous, but this has to do with high collusion, because only technicians or persons with expertise can open those spaces on the plane and then have the drugs stuffed there.”
PROPER BORDER CONTROL
In responding to the matter of inter-agency collaboration in keeping contraband out of Jamaica, Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ) President and Chief Executive Officer, Audley Deidrick, emphasised that his entity relies on the on-site and hand-in-hand functions of other organisations for proper border control.
“Both the Norman Manley International Airport [in Kingston] and the Sangster International Airport are operated by private concessionaire operators, who are overseen by the AAJ as part of our administrations of those concessions. However, the operators of the airports are not the ones who have the authority in terms of specific border control activities,” Deidrick told The Sunday Gleaner.
“As it relates to people entering the country, the organisation monitoring that in the airport is the Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency, whose responsibility is to process and ensure that the persons are legally qualified to enter the country. In terms of goods, to include contraband, the authority with responsibility for that is the Jamaica Customs Agency. These two authorities are properly facilitated in the airports in terms of providing of space, infrastructure, and any other equipment or facility that they may need,” Deidrick added.