Stress on cops - MoBay violence a strain on lawmen's families
They are coming under increased pressure to put a lid on crime in Montego Bay, St James, but the men and women on the front line are facing their own battles, which are often ignored by the public.
With 21 active gangs in St James and 17 involved in the latest flare-up in violence, members of the police force are fighting to protect lives daily while putting their own lives at risk and placing their family members under daily stress.
"It is devastating on the family, especially the wife," said Detective Sergeant Michael 'Bulli' Chisholm, as he spoke with a Gleaner special investigative team in Montego Bay yesterday.
"The family members are worried. They are terrified. They are afraid that Daddy might not come home. My little boy, who is age seven, recently said, 'Daddy, I don't want them to kill you,' and I just said, 'Son, me used to it, a long time me a fight it but just pray for me,'" added Chisholm.
It was a similar story from his colleagues, Corporal Nicholas Shorter, Constable Gary McKenzie, and Detective Corporal Alton Lowrie.
"Every killing that takes place in Montego Bay, my mother calls me, and based on how she sounds, you can tell that she is concerned, even though she is not in Montego Bay.
"To know that you have your son in Montego Bay and one of these days you can get a call that something happened to him is worrying," said McKenzie.
Shorter left his mother crying when he went to join the police force and she has not stopped worrying since.
"Just like McKenzie, every time there is an incident of violence, I get calls from my mother, father, sister brother, who want to see if I'm all right and whether anybody I know has been affected, because they are worried," said Shorter.
It is a little different for Lowrie, who works with the Scene of Crime Unit, but his family is no less worried as he works on the mean streets of Montego Bay.
"The children, they are worried all the while, because sometimes when you go on the crime scene, you do not have enough police coverage. If you speak to the wives and the girlfriends, they will tell you that the Scene of Crime people, when they come home, they are wiped out."
That pressure on Lowrie is similar for all the cops who are facing increasingly younger criminals in Montego Bay who seem to have no respect for life.
The problems for the policemen and women are compounded by the ad hoc development of the communities at the heart of the crime, and the refusal of residents to play their part.
"In this high-crime environment, one of the obstacles facing the police is the reluctance of persons to provide information because they fear violent reprisals.
"The gangs use violence to enforce their code of silence in the communities," lamented Shorter.
"The informal settlement makes access difficult, while the terrain make foot patrols, one of the key anti-crime tools, very difficult because of the pressure it puts in the police.
"Foot patrol in an area like Glendevon or Salt Spring can be very tiresome, because of the uphill terrain, uneven surfaces, multiple unknowns, wooded areas and abandoned buildings," added Shorter.
According to McKenzie, patrolling these communities is stressful and very risky because of the zinc fences with the hidden entrances that provide cover and escape routes for the criminals.
"Up to a few nights ago, police on patrol in Chico Lane, Glendevon, came under fire, and when they pursued the men made their way through these flip gates in the fences," said McKenzie, as he lamented that despite the hard work of the police, the criminals are not getting caught at the rate he would like.
That is also a concern of his colleague Shorter, who is based at the Police Area One headquarters.
"Police putting out 110 per cent and seeing people dying left, right and centre. It makes your effort seem like it is nothing, and that is a great source of stress," said Shorter.
"It really seems insurmountable on some occasions despite the efforts of the good commanders who have served St James like Senior Superintendent (Marlon) Nesbeth who motivates the staff to get the job done.