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'This is war' - MoBay interests argue over call for state of emergency

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2016 | 7:05 AM
Police on a crime scene in Montego Bay, St James.

Western Bureau:

Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams has stirred up a hornet's nest among Montego Bay stakeholders with his dismissive stance against the imposition of a state of emergency as a first step to quelling the lawlessness in the western city.

In addition to Government Senator Charles Sinclair, who has called for the resignation or the firing of the commissioner, who he says is out of his depth in terms of his understanding of the crime situation in Montego Bay, other critical stakeholders have also expressed disagreement with the top cop.

SEE: The Gleaner's crime special: Bullets & Blood

Dr Lee Bailey, the region's foremost voice in the cruise-shipping sector and chairman of the St James Police Civic Committee, thinks a state of emergency at this time is badly needed as, in his opinion, things have got out of hand in a very bad way.

"I have a problem with such a statement (from the commissioner) said Bailey. "We have a problem, which is immediate ... a social problem that is perennial which we cannot fix overnight, but we must have an immediate response to the lives of people being destroyed left, right and centre."

Added Bailey: "Something must be done whether a state of emergency or pulling on all the support you can find in the fight."

crime causing dislocation

In the immediate aftermath of the commissioner's statement, Sinclair, who is a former mayor of Montego Bay and the current minority leader of the St James Parish Council, said the crime situation is causing major dislocation.

"At this moment, there is a tremendous fear factor in the citizenry; children are unable to go to school as they are afraid to cross the imaginary boundaries in communities, people are afraid to go out to church, resource and community centres cannot carry on programmes as participants are fearful in going out to the events," said Sinclair.

"If it is not police action that restores calm and peace in the first instance and in the shortest possible time, I don't know what else can do so."

But yesterday, in an interview on RJR's Beyond the Headlines, the police commissioner acknowledged that the idea of a state of emergency could be reconsidered.

Williams said when the proposal was originally being discussed, the parish had not yet seen the most recent spate of incidents in which at least 11 people were shot and four killed.

Earlier yesterday, while not coming down on one side or the other in response to calls for a state of emergency, National Security Minister Robert Montague stressed that the Government would support any request from the police.

"My job is to give the police what they need and I have been doing exactly that," Montague said.

"Whatever they ask for, we ensure that they have it as the Government of Jamaica is committed to the fight against crime."

need all assets

In a clear departure from the original position taken by his boss, a senior policeman, who asked not to be identified, described the ongoing carnage as "a state of war", which requires much more than the regular police response.

"This is war ... when you go to a crime scene and count 27, 28, 29 AK 47 spent shell in one small area, it makes you worry for your family ... these are dangerous criminals with bad intentions," said the policeman. "... a man with the experience of the commissioner should know that this requires a state of emergency... we need to throw all the available assets into this fight to save Montego Bay."

But yesterday, tourism stakeholders said they would neither support calls for a state of emergency nor Williams' resignation.

Addressing a press briefing at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James, Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), said the results of a meeting with Senior Superintendent of Police Marlon Nesbeth, commanding officer in charge of the parish, pointed to a public-private sector approach to reducing the upsurge of crime in the parish.

"The police need to be able to access better intelligence. They are lacking in some resources and we have committed to working with them. At this time we not calling for a state of emergency and we are not calling for the resignation of the commissioner either," said Robinson.

fix social problems

Williams had stated on the weekend that a state of emergency would not put a stop to crime in the parish as the problems are social and have to be fixed socially.

"It's for the police to find effective measures to solve the problems that we have. People have been calling for soldiers... there are soldiers out in some of the communities. We have seen them," argued Robinson.

The JHTA president was supported by his predecessor, Nicola Madden Greig, who admitted that a state of emergency will always bring controversy, although there have been times in Jamaica's history where it has become necessary.

"Obviously there has been good and bad in it (states of emergency), but it never should be done or called for in a light manner," she stated, adding that the country has been through traumatic times over its history and unfortunately has been faced with the reality of having to call for "such a thing".

Other experts in the industry are convinced that there can be anything that Jamaica could achieve with a state of emergency that cannot be achieved from limited curfews.

In the meantime, Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris said a state of emergency is not the solution to curb the parish's escalating crime issue.

Harris told The Gleaner he would not support a state of emergency as they only breed extra judicial killings, which would yield little to no solution to fixing the real long-term problems in Montego Bay and the wider St James.