Authorities move to halt criminal use of tactical gear
Authorities within the security forces are doing everything in their power to stem the deadly practice of criminals wearing police- and military-type gear, posing as officers of the law as they carry out their wanton killings and other criminal activities.
At the same time, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is again decrying the ease with which the public can access military-type camouflage material, revealing that despite robust investigation, it is still unsure how recently confiscated military equipment landed in criminal hands.
Five persons are now behind bars after the Clarendon police last month seized a large quantity of army fatigues, camouflage, police vests, backpacks and rounds fitting for the M16 assault rifle in the community of Farm in the parish. The items were discovered when the cops swooped down on a reported car-stealing ring.
That same week, the Clarendon police also seized a cache of police and army paraphernalia that they said were being used by criminals in the Bucknor community, near May Pen. The items included a JDF ballistic helmet, a pull-over, a pair of handcuffs, masks, and three rounds of ammunition, and were described by Deputy Superintendent of Police Hornet Williams as one of the major challenges being endured by police in Clarendon.
"Given the relative ease with which the public can access such uniforms, as well as the lack of any distinguishing features on the material, it is very difficult to say with any certainty where they originated," explained Major Basil Jarrett, JDF media affairs officer.
However, Jarrett said the deadly phenomenon was "nothing new".
"Over the years, it has become increasingly easy for military uniform, kit and equipment to end up in the hands of criminals," he told The Sunday Gleaner. "This is due to a variety of reasons, such as military surplus gear being dumped into the consumer market when overseas militaries either retire them from service or upgrade to the newer digital patterns."
Jarrett, who last week came under heat from the public as to whether the seized uniforms originated from behind JDF walls, described this as one of the reasons the JDF made a switch from the more customary black and green camouflage uniforms to the ones the soldiers now sport.
March Pen Road attack
Five persons, including three children, were slaughtered when men reportedly dressed in police attire, and who identified themselves as police, barged into a March Pen Road house in St Catherine, tied up its occupants and sprayed them with bullets before setting the house ablaze.
One alleged eyewitness was reported as saying that: "Mi see dem inna police vest. Some a dem have on mask, some a dem don't. When mi come out, dem see mi and fire shot [but] mi escape."
The witness said residents ran for their lives as screams echoed from the inferno nearby.
Police have since arrested and charged Marlon Campbell, who they identified as the major suspect in the killings. Campbell was said to be related to the victims and was handed over to the Police High Command by Bishop Rowan Edwards.
His arrest has brought some appeasement to residents, who feared reprisals, but the ordeal they endured on October 9 will forever be etched in the minds of the March Pen Road community.
Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Corporate Communications Unit (CCU), told The Sunday Gleaner that an investigation was launched into the Clarendon seizures, and that it found no evidence that the items belonged to either the JDF or the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
"The material used to make the standard police shirt is exclusively ordered by the JCF and is treated as a restricted item, along with all other items of uniform. This material is not sold in stores," said Lindsay.
"The JCF has standard identifiable accoutrements, such as the regulation number badge, the police's identification card and other items which can help to guide the public in identifying a member."
She admitted that while the JCF has a strict policy governing the return and exchange of uniforms, it is very unlikely, but possible, that some paraphernalia being used by criminals originate from within the confines of the JCF.
"We don't have any report or evidence of that happening. We do have a robust system of checks and balances to make it difficult for persons to do that," said Lindsay.
After the 2010 West Kingston incursion, when gunmen loyal to former strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke dressed in army fatigues engaged the security forces in high-powered gun battles, the military opted to change its official gear on January 15, 2015.
Jarrett said that the new JDF uniforms are not only less costly, but they improved battlefield adaptability. The old uniforms were systematically returned, he said, and are being used by recruits in Newcastle.