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Firecracker clamp down - Police, Customs vigilant as illegal and annoying explosive devices flood downtown Kingston

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A vendor displaying firecrackers for sale on the streets of downtown Kingston. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

With Christmas weeks away, illegal firecrackers have returned to the streets of downtown Kingston with formal and informal vendors offering them for sale despite the increased police presence.

Last week, a Sunday Gleaner news team had no problem purchasing a pack of Red Devil firecrackers in the heart of downtown Kingston despite police on foot patrol only metres away.

A pack of 'Red Devil' brand firecrackers with 1,280 explosives is being wholesaled for $2,500, with individual firecrackers being sold on almost every corner and at several school gates.

But head of the West Kingston Police Division, Steve McGregor, admitted that clamping down on the illegal and annoying item is a struggle for the cops.

"We have a fairly good idea of the people who push them out and wholesale them," McGregor told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We can't really stop them ... because they are coming through the ports which we don't really have any control over. So it is in the streets that we have to encounter with them, which is really sad, because we would have wanted them to be apprehended before they reach the streets," added McGregor.

He noted that persons have been using different methods to get the firecrackers into the country.

McGregor, whose division includes a portion of the market district, said the annual firecracker problem is "a sore point" for the cops.

Customs needs to do more

He argued that Jamaica Customs needs to do more since firecracker is a restricted item and if imported without the requisite permits/licence should be confiscated and destroyed.

The importers are also liable to face penalties based on provisions of the Customs Act.

"A lot more needs to be done at a point of entry because at that time you will get them in bulk, so you will hurt those who are bringing them in a greater way. When we go at them on the streets it is really the retailers we are catching; not those who are bringing them in bulk," argued McGregor.

"I would advocate that the port of entry should be a target point for it," added the one-time Lasco Top Cop.

But while admitting that there is an increase in the importation of firecrackers around this time of year, deputy commissioner of board protection at Jamaica Customs, Alwyn Nicely, insisted that more is being done to clamp down on the importation.

"We conduct even more detailed and stringent examination of cargo, which are coming in from particular areas like China and the United States," Nicely told The Sunday Gleaner.

"In the case of China, for instance, we know that they produce that sort of thing. Also, monitoring of the airport is in place," added Nicely, as he conceded that Customs has not been able to intercept all illegal imports because of the sheer volume
of things being brought in.

"With the volume of goods
that is imported, it is impossible for us to go through with a
fine-tooth comb, so we have that constraint in terms of volume and that
would be for the seaports. If you visit the terminals on any given day
there are hundreds of containers, and we are just not sufficiently
staffed," argued Nicely.

"The airport is another area.
We have persons who strap those things to their bodies and walk
through. They commingle them with other goods ... and they even use
children to carry them, and it is not just for pyrotechnics, they do it
with almost anything. These are the various concealment methods that
these people will employ with a view to bypass the

Nicely noted that firecrackers and other
explosive or highly flammable devices fall under the Explosives Act and
can be confiscated by the police, and the persons caught in possession,
without a permit, or who use them to create public nuisance can also be

"As a form of support feature, we conduct
street operations where we target the locations where pyrotechnics are
being sold with a view to seizing them and charging the persons," said

Vendors will be targeted

police will be a big part of the effort to rid the streets of the
explosive devices, and Superintendent Mickey Scott, who heads the
Kingston Central Division, is adamant that persons selling firecrackers
will be targeted.

"I will check on it as it concerns
me. We are looking out for stuff like these," declared

"We will be looking out for these persons and
arrests will be made when they are found in possession," added Scott,
who is in command of the men and women who patrol a big part of the
market district.

The use of consumer fireworks such as
firecrackers can lead to devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and