Counter-attack - Army ramping up recruitment to help crush western crime
The new head of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Major General Rocky Meade, plans to deploy a battalion of soldiers - normally between 500 and 600 - to the crime-plagued western section of the island but made it clear that the army would have to recruit to support the deployment.
This disclosure, in an interview with The Gleaner immediately after he assumed command of the military, seemingly highlights Meade's own sharp focus on Jamaica's crime problem, which is in keeping with what the Holness administration says is one of its key strategies for driving economic growth.
Meade took over from Major General Antony Anderson, who has been appointed as Jamaica's first national security adviser.
Meade didn't give a timeframe for the deployment but suggested that a full battalion could be built up over two years.
"We will be recruiting continuously, maybe 250 per year over the next year or two," he told The Gleaner after he was officially appointed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen during a ceremony at King's House in St Andrew.
According to the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) latest Periodic Serious and Violent Crime Review, 390 murders have been recorded in Trelawny, St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland - Jamaica's four westernmost parishes, which are also critical to the island's tourism industry - since the start of the year.
The data show, too, that St James alone recorded 232 murders since January 1, the most in the history of the parish over a one-year period. It also marked the second straight year that the murder count in St James has surpassed 200.
Meade acknowledged that the high murder rate was what influenced his decision to deploy a full battalion out west.
"The murder figures in the west are more than double what they normally are, apparently related to the lottery activities," he noted.
With murders over 1,000 annually and a homicide rate of upwards of 40 per 100,000, Jamaica is in the top tier of murderous countries, a fact that analysts and international agencies say constrains economic growth.
In fact, the World Bank has argued that if Jamaica could bring its homicide rate close to that of its regional competitor, Costa Rica (around 10 per 100,000), it would release up to seven per cent in additional annual economic growth. Over the last 40 years, the island's economy has grown at an annual average of one per cent.
Meade said that the army was not seeking to take over the role of the police. Instead, its planned increased presence in western Jamaica would form part of its enhanced support to the police.
Meade said that for his tenure, he wants to increase the number of men and women serving in the JDF. There are approximately 4,000 members serving in the Jamaican military.
He said increasing the membership of the army would also provide some respite for overworked soldiers.
"We have a very modest force and the soldiers work around the clock. They have to be on and off every eight hours in order for us to keep a constant presence out there," Meade said.
"One of the things I want to do is increase the numbers (in the JDF) so that they can get enough rest, spend time with their families, while we continue to have a constant presence supporting the police," he added.
In the meantime, Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams welcomed Meade's appointment, saying it marked the continuation of the very good relationship that exists between the police and the military.
"He was always there working with us to ensure that these police-military joint patrols are very, very effective. I think with the challenges that we face, the support of the military is indispensible to the effective control of crime by the security forces," Williams said.