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'Frightening' - St James murders top 200, Mobay chamber boss wants cops to do more to stem violence in west

Published:Friday | December 18, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Gloria Henry ... It is very frightening for us as business operators and citizens.

With St James crossing the 200-murder mark this calendar year, business leaders have suggested that more creative steps be taken to tackle crime in the parish.

The situation is the same in Westmoreland, according to one business operator, who is contending that the 113 per cent increase in reported murders since the start of this year is being fuelled by a wave of petty crimes in the commercial centre.

According to the latest Periodic Serious and Violent Crime Review compiled by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), 203 persons have been reported killed in St James between January 1 and last weekend. This is a 34 per cent jump, when compared with the 151 murders recorded for the corresponding period last year.

"It is very frightening for us as business operators and citizens," Gloria Henry, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said yesterday.

She acknowledged that the St James Police, led by Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor, have been implementing strategies to stem the violence in several communities, but suggested that these measures have to go beyond increasing police presence in crime hotspots.

"We have to find more creative ways to address the root causes, to get into the communities, to work with the citizens in these communities, because responding with force and the traditional measures seem not to be effective in dealing with the kind of activities that are taking place in these communities," she told The Gleaner.

Noting that the parish is constantly attracting new investments in tourism and the business process outsourcing sector, Henry said business operators are particularly concerned that Montego Bay's image could be tarnished by the rising crime rate.

"It's not crime against visitors. These are really crimes against local persons ... . Nonetheless, the image is very important. We don't want for when an investor to google St James, this is the kind of report that is coming up to them," she said.

The JCF statistics show that between January 1 and last weekend, Westmoreland recorded 100 murders, more than doubling the 47 recorded over the corresponding period last year.

But Owen Sinclair, operator of Sinclair's Bargain Centre in Savanna-la-Mar, said yesterday that murder was not the only crime spiralling out of control in the parish.

"Nobody can venture on the streets at nights without some boys at the corner grabbing off their necklaces, taking away their telephones, grabbing their bags - all sorts of things," Sinclair told The Gleaner.

According to the JCF statistics, 66 robberies were recorded in Westmoreland over the near 12-month period, a seven per cent drop when compared with the 71 recorded for the corresponding period last year.

Sinclair disputed the police figures, charging that in most cases, incidents of robberies go unreported.

"When a woman is walking to her home in Russia and two boys just come up [to her] and cut off her handbag, what is she going to do? If she goes to the police, it's a waste of time because they will never find them," he said.

"People who sell at the market, they (criminals) just go and take away their goods like it's free," Sinclair added.

He charged that the sharing of spoils from these robberies is one of the factors driving the increase in murders in the parish.

"The killings are caused by people who are dissatisfied with the arrangements (sharing of the spoils). They either can't get enough or ... when they steal, they don't share evenly," he argued.

Since the start of the year, the police have recorded 1,160 murders islandwide, a 20 per cent increase when compared with the 967 reported over the corresponding period last year. There have been 677 murders in rural parishes, while 483 were recorded in the Kingston Metropolitan Area.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com