Editorial | Going after gangs
We want to share the police's seeming optimism that they are finally getting the hang of investigating gangs and making good use of the more than three-year-old law that gives them a special tool against criminal organisations. That, at least, is the sense we get from Fitz Bailey, head of the police's Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch (C-TOC), who, this week, announced the arrest of 25 members of a single gang including its leader and disclosed that the investigation has been developed in concert with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The inference, therefore, is that if this case is not airtight, it should be close to it. So after these cases are tried, the public, unlike with the X-6 murder and Cash Plus fraud sagas, shouldn't be bombarded with excuses about what prosecutors knew or didn't know about the investigations and when they knew it.
The point is that Jamaicans take this case seriously and will watch it closely, given the context of the anti-gang law and how pivotal the police often claim these crime syndicates to be in Jamaica's crisis of violence that could this year result in over 1,600 homicides, the worst in seven years and more than 25 per cent higher than 2016.
Indeed, when the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act, which is the formal title for the anti-gang law, was finally passed in 2014, after years of chatter and much meandering in the legislature, it was heralded by Government and law enforcement officials as a game-changer. People who form gangs, recruit their members, are members of them, help them in any way, or benefit from them, could be specially targeted.
But insofar as this newspaper is aware, there has so far been one conviction under the law in January of this year of Jordan Markland, 22, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his membership of a criminal organisation. Yet at the time, the police indicated that there were more than 250 gangs operating in Jamaica, and C-TOC's then head, Clifford Chambers, reported that in the period since the passage of the law, 329 persons had been arrested for breaches of its provisions.
Notably, the Terrence Gang, which Mr Bailey branded as sophisticated and ruthless and of which the 25 persons recently arrested are allegedly members, wasn't on the billboard of notoriety for Jamaican gangs. One Order, Klansman, Tel-A-Viv, Dirty Dozen, and Scare Dem were the syndicates from which most of the arrests came.
Mr Chambers, in February, argued that investigating gangs is a slow process, but more significantly, stressed the unwillingness of Jamaicans, for fear of reprisals, to cooperate with investigators. The anti-gang law, however, allows for the identity of witnesses not to be published, as well as prevents publication of particulars of a case, except for the name of the accused, the offence for which he is charged, the verdict, and the sentence. Moreover, anti-gang cases are held only before a judge and have no requirement for a preliminary inquiry.
In other words, there is the possibility of speedy trials. Witnesses can be relatively assured that their names won't be in the public domain, and in any event, the courts can utilise the technologies that allow the giving of evidence away from the physical courtroom. Further, these gang cases are of the kind in which plea-bargaining would be useful.
In the circumstances, we look forward to the completion of the takedown of the Terrence gang and the many others that cause so much mayhem in Jamaica.