Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Editorial | The crime that shocked Jamaica

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 12:21 AM

The video of heavily armed gunmen moving with precision against a May Pen business left many citizens shocked and deeply disturbed. In the incident, on May 26, two policemen sustained gunshot wounds, one person was kidnapped, money was stolen, and there were many unanswered questions.

The ferocity of the incident warranted a visit to May Pen by both the minister of national security and the commissioner of police within hours of the robbery. The minister, Dr Horace Chang, promised more boots on the ground while lamenting the vulnerability of police officers against fearless and well-armed criminals.

Outrage was somewhat allayed when the police announced, five days later, that they had nabbed three of the criminals responsible for the Sunday morning robbery and shooting spree.

But in a shocking twist, it has been revealed by Gleaner investigations that the police released the men whom they had taken into custody and that two months after the rampage, they are no closer to arresting those responsible for shooting two of their colleagues and for kidnapping a worker and robbing the wholesale.

Yes, crime is a serious and overwhelming problem for Jamaica. We don’t need the US to remind us of the public health epidemic that gun violence has become. However, in its 2019 Crime and Safety report published earlier this year, the State Department highlighted Jamaica’s homicide rate and cited gang activity as a source of the majority of violent crimes across the island.

The report referred to a police force that is understaffed and with limited resources. Even though the current minister of national security may argue that the Jamaica Constabulary Force has never been as well equipped as it is today, glaring resource gaps that have been identified, particularly in the intelligence-gathering capability of the force. There is no sign that these are being addressed with the urgency required.

Dead end?

What the State Department report did not say is how inept the police force is beginning to look to the people they have sworn to protect. Sometimes it takes master criminals to plan and execute an operation such as that which unfolded in May Pen on May 26. But sometimes, it just takes incompetent investigators for a crime to succeed and remain unsolved. Are we to believe the robbers left no clues behind? We know from the police that among the items left behind were a car and a firearm and cash. We also know that the men are part of a criminal gang.

Is there no one in and around May Pen who recognised even one of the men who committed this crime? Who is looking over the shoulders of the investigators to ensure that they get the necessary help to crack the case?

As it turned out, the men who descended on the May Pen business gangster-style were captured on video that was widely circulated on social media, yet they have managed to evade detection. They are out there somewhere, in all likelihood enjoying their loot while biding their time before staging another assault.

The May Pen robbery is a case study of one of the hundreds of unresolved crimes recorded across the length and breadth of Jamaica. Understandably, families of victims may not be encouraged by the work of the police.

The conversation about the ability of the police to effectively deal with crime is gathering momentum as cases like the May Pen robbery remain unsolved. One of the matters that seems to require urgent attention is where the hardest police work is done – in the field. The supervisory role of senior members of the force in the field is key in changing things around.