Sun | Mar 26, 2017

Bunting's big bluff!

Published:Sunday | November 9, 2014 | 11:00 AMTyrone Thompson
Derrick Smith
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More than two years after National Security Minister Peter Bunting reacted to public concerns that guns seized by the police were being planted at other crime scenes, and announced the start of an islandwide audit of the system, only four police divisions have been checked.

The divisions so far audited do not include any of those where the most illegal firearms have been seized since last year St Andrew South (77); St Catherine North (69); St Catherine South (66); St James (68); and Kingston Western (68).

The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), which was mandated by Bunting to carry out the audit and remove the guns from the police stations, last week confirmed that less than 10 per cent of the audit has been done so far.

Process delayed

According to Dr Kenroy Wedderburn, chief executive officer of the FLA, the process has been delayed by the resignation of its board and the relocation of its headquarters.

"The divisions that have been visited by FLA to date are St Thomas, Portland, St Mary, and St Ann," Wedderburn told The Sunday Gleaner, as he emphasised the adverse effects that the changes at his organisation have had on the process.

"There will be two more visits before the end of the calendar year," said Wedderburn, even as he declined to state the exact number of guns audited so far. Wedderburn argued that sorting through the guns was a lengthy part of the process.

The Ministry of National Security also blamed the delay at conditions at the FLA, as it told The Sunday Gleaner that the audit should now be done by the middle of next year.

"There was an initial delay in carrying out the audit because of the lack of adequate storage space when the FLA was located at Worthington Avenue.

"With the relocation of the FLA's office to Old Hope Road, the storage space has been improved; in addition, arrangements are now in place for the Jamaica Defence Force to

destroy obsolete weapons," said the ministry in emailed response to questions from our news team.

"The audit is a meticulous procedure, and the FLA team will be working assiduously to ensure it is done thoroughly. The team will be carrying out audits monthly in an effort to expedite the process," added the ministry.

More than 1,235 illegal guns have been seized by the police between January 2013 and October, 2014. However, hundreds of other guns, including those left at the police stations by licensed firearm holders, are being held at police stations.

Only 104, or less than 10 per cent of the 1,235 guns seized in the past 21 months, were held in the divisions already audited by the FLA.

In announcing the audit, Bunting had claimed that the central storage of weapons was to have removed the scepticism that surrounds numerous police shootings, where allegations are made that the police plant recycled weapons at the crime scenes.

Bunting further argued that it would serve for good order with these guns stored at a centrally secure location.

With Bunting off the island on government business last week, the security ministry said measures have been put in place to ensure safe holding and accountability of the illegal weapons and ammunition which have been seized.

According to the ministry, it has instructed the police to conduct a comprehensive review of the systems used to hold illegal firearms.

"The review is being conducted by a team from the internal Audit Unit of the Ministry of National Security, as well as a team from the Jamaica Constabulary Force."

But that is not enough for opposition spokesperson on national security, Derrick Smith, who argued that the failure to complete the firearm audit after two years is an indication of the minister's poor management.

"It is astounding that the minister could have given a policy directive regarding firearms in storage in the police stations across the island and it has still not yet been done. It is even more amazing that the minister of national security would give such a directive and not follow up to ensure that it was being followed," Smith told our news team.

Assistant commissioner of the Independent Commission of investigations (INDECOM), Hamish Campbell, agreed that it was not good policy for seized weapons to remain at police stations.

"INDECOM's view has always been that they are exhibits, that a person will be charged or they are a part of an investigation, so they should be treated as exhibits, and stored separately, where the police do not have easy access to them, and one such way is to remove them from the police stations where some of the control and security measures are not as strict as they could be," said Campbell.

While admitting that the allegations regarding police planting recycled weapons at crime scenes were not new, Campbell said INDECOM is investigating a number of these claims. However, he would not say how widespread the practice actually was.

"Allegations of this type are actually received quite often and they are in various stages of investigation.

"The concept of such matters, however, is not new, and with so many guns in the island, legitimate and otherwise, it is inevitable that some members of the force could seek to try to find guns to be reused. As unpalatable as it is, it does exist."