Tough legislative changes coming
Longer sentences for gun-related crimes are among the raft of legislative tools the Andrew Holness administration plans to give the police this year to help tackle the country’s crime problem. Last year, Jamaica recorded more than 1,300 murders across the 19 police divisions islandwide and, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), a gun was used in nearly 80 per cent of those killings.
Minister of National Security Robert Montague revealed yesterday that the Government plans to enact changes to the Firearms Act that will provide stiffer penalties for gun crimes. “The message must be clearly sent that whenever you take up the gun, you are going to spend a long, long, long time [in prison],” Montague warned. “And remember, I’ve already made the changes at the prison. I’ve put back hard labour into prison time,” he said during the JCF’s annual devotional exercise held at the St Andrew offices of the police commissioner yesterday.
In addition, Montague said licensed firearm holders will be held more accountable for the 50 rounds of ammunition they are allotted each year as part of the changes to the Firearms Act. By policy decision, he said, the Government will next week direct the Firearms Licensing Authority to put measures in place to ensure this happens.
“We have 40,000 licensed firearm holders in this country and each of them gets 50 rounds per year. Fifty times (multiply by) 40,000, that’s two million rounds. If 10 per cent get into illegal hands, that’s a dangerous amount,” he underscored. “The police have to account for every bullet that they have. The private firearm holder is going to be required to do the same,” he insisted.
Other legislation that will see changes this year, the minister said, are the Bail Act and the Fingerprint Act.
Montague also revealed that the country’s next police commissioner will be employed under a contract that will have specific performance targets. Already, he said, the Government has held discussions with the Police Service Commission (PSC) to ensure that this happens. “You must come to the table with your plans and your vision as to how you are going to tackle what faces Jamaica and the constabulary force,” he insisted. “You not just going to come and collect you pay and it’s business as usual,” Montague warned.
The PSC is soon expected to begin the search for a new police chief following the decision of Dr Carl Williams to proceed on early retirement. Williams is to demit office on January 6, and the PSC has appointed Deputy Commissioner Novlette Grant to act as police chief while the search for his successor is conducted.