Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Gov't targets western crime - Holness announces operations split in New Year message

Published:Monday | January 2, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Holness

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced yesterday that the Government will be splitting the police's western operational command in two, as part of his administration's new efforts to tackle the deepening problem of violent crime in that part of the island. He also promised the creation of specially targeted zones of focus for the security forces and state agencies in a new law-enforcement initiative.

But the prime minister only provided a skeletal outline of the proposal in his New Year's message, which focused heavily on crime.

Calls to National Security Minister Robert Montague went unanswered as The Gleaner sought more information on the idea. Montague's deputy, Pearnel Charles Jr, deferred to his senior.

High-ranking police personnel noted that Holness' statement was in the realm of policy, which was beyond their remit.

"There will be restructuring of the security forces to increase operation and administrative focus on the western parishes, which will see the western operational area for the police split into two," he said.

500 TROOPS

Holness also repeated a previous disclosure by new Chief of Defence Staff Major General Rocky Meade that an army battalion - up to 500 Jamaica Defence Force soldiers - would be stationed in Montego Bay, St James, Jamaica's second city and the major population in western Jamaica.

There will also be other "infrastructure improvements to accommodate these changes", Holness said, but he did not say what these would be.

The western police division includes the parishes of St James, St Elizabeth, Hanover, and Westmoreland, and is considered to be Jamaica's most murderous police region, with 449 homicides recorded up to December 24 last year. The greater portion of these killings - 261 - occurred in

St James, giving it a murder rate of more than 140 per 100,000 population, or three times the national average.

In the circumstances, it is expected that St James, which is the hub for so-called lottery scamming, will be targeted for special attention. Under these scams, the targets, mostly elderly Americans, are told that they have won large sums of money in sweepstakes, but that have to make upfront payments for taxes and other administrative costs, to retrieve their winnings.

These schemes are estimated to earn their perpetrators up to US$300 million a year, but often lead to deadly feuds over "lead lists" containing personal information of prospective victims and sharing of spoils.

While western Jamaica has gained particular attention, the problem of violent crime is receiving broader national attention, especially in the face of last year's 11 per cent rise in murders, following a five per cent hike in 2015.

In fact, Holness underlined the regional connection of the problem and the threat it posed to his Government's economic project.

"Every time a shot is fired or someone gets robbed or a murder is committed, the dance is locked off and permits are refused, or the cruise ships don't send the tourist to the communities anymore," he said.

But his administration, the prime minister claimed, has "a plan to secure Jamaica", aspects of which will be made public in the coming weeks.

"We will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured," he said.

"Under this framework, zones where the security forces and other government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns, contraband and criminals will be created."