Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Happy riddance to bloody 2016 - Murders up 11 per cent when compared to 2015

Published:Sunday | January 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Men being searched by police during a security operation in Montego Bay, St James, in September.

For Warren Clarke, last September wasn't one to remember. But then, neither was August. Or for that matter, all of 2016.

Clarke is an assistant commissioner of police in charge of western Jamaica, which includes the parish of St James, which recorded more murders, in absolute and per capita terms, than anywhere else in Jamaica. Last year, there were more than 260 murders there, approximately 20 per cent of the 1,325 homicides in Jamaica at December 24.

The number of murders in St James was nearly twice that of its closest rival, the St Catherine North Police Division, home of the notorious Klansman and One Order gangs.

"We had a very bad September," said Clarke. "... September was the worst month."

That was when 36 people were killed in the parish, a rate that annualises to around 1,300 murders and caused complaints about the situation in the parish to reach a crescendo.

That September was especially bad doesn't mean that either Clarke or any other senior police officer believe that other months were good - just not as bad. In fact, the year did not start well, whether in St James or the rest of Jamaica. There was a rash of murders early on.

Indeed, by June, so concerned had the authorities become about the situation in St James where there were already 103 murders, the authorities dispatched additional police officers as well as soldiers to the region to help keep the peace. Their presence contributed to a slowdown, if not a lull, in the killings.


Resources constraints


But resources and other constraints forced the police to scale back their deployment in St James. The killings resumed.

"We had the setbacks in August," said Clarke.

"We have just not been able to return to that rhythm we had mid-year. At the moment we are recalibrating our strategies and tactics, and we believe that improved leadership on the ground will ensure that additional resources, policemen in early December, will be optimised in 2017," added Clarke.

Law-enforcement officials attribute St James' and western Jamaica's high incidence of violent crime to the so-called lottery scammers. The parish is the cradle of the enterprise in which mainly elderly Americans are swindled of an estimated US$300 million a year.

But the scammers often fight among themselves for so-called lead lists containing the personal information of potential victims and other over disagreements over the sharing of spoils, or accusations of skimming by those who collect the cash.

"The lotto scammers and other criminal groups have clearly taken roots in the environment and have continued to dispense violence, not only against each other but against families of their opponents and associates, and more unfortunately the innocent," Clarke told The Sunday Gleaner.

Communities in the St Catherine North Division, the stamping ground of two of the country's deadliest criminal gangs, accounted for the second-highest number of murders in any single police division last year, at 144.

Most of the killings, including an attack which left two adults and three children dead on March Pen Road in October, have been blamed on an internal power struggle in the Klansman gang.

Up to last Thursday, Clarendon was the police division which was third on the list, with the most murders at 133. This was 10 more than recorded in the parish in 2015.

"The year started out bad, and as a result of the bad start we ended up bad," said head of the Clarendon police, Superintendent Vendolyn Cameron-Powell.

She charged that crime-fighting in the parish is being hampered by the number of cops based there who have resigned in recent times.

"Our greatest challenge right now is manpower. We had a lot of resignations this year. A lot of resignations. And I am hoping that I don't get anymore for the rest of the year," said Cameron-Powell three days before the curtain came down on 2016.

"I have interviewed several persons and I have heard it from them that they cannot afford to stay in a job where when they carry out their job they are likely to be prosecuted and sent off to prison. I have heard that from a lot of my young people," added Cameron-Powell.


JCF death squad


Since 2014, police in Clarendon have come under heavy scrutiny from

the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and the public following a Sunday Gleaner exposÈ that cops based there could be operating as part of a death squad.

Almost a dozen have been either charged or interviewed in connection with the alleged death squad.

In the meantime, the usually peaceful Westmoreland, which has also housed several lottery scammers, recorded 113 murders for 2016. This was a marked increase from the 106 killings recorded in 2015.

The St Catherine South Police Division, which includes the dormitory community of Portmore, rounded off the top five killing fields of the island last year with 94 murders.

The usually violent St Andrew South Police Division, which covers several gritty inner-city communities, recorded 84 murders last year, a slight uptick from the 76 recorded in 2015.

Head of the division, Senior Superintendent Arthur Brown, told The Sunday Gleaner that a lack of resources for the police could be a contributing factor to the increase in murders, but noted that this was traditionally a hostile police division.

"Last year, we had 76 murders so we have exceeded last year's figure. However, in comparison to 10 years ago there has been a decrease. Ten years ago we regularly had more than 100 murders. So regardless of having gone over last year's figure, we think that we would have done well," said Brown.