Gangbusters - Cops reject claims they are not-using anti-gang law properly, point to more than 300 gangsters nabbed in just over two years
The police force has rejected claims that poor investigation by its detectives is one of the major reasons for the low conviction rate under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act, better known as the 'anti-gang legislation'.
Last week, 22-year-old Jordan Markland, a member of the deadly St Catherine-based Klansman gang, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in what was reported as the first conviction under the almost three-year-old anti-gang law.
This came days after Justice Minister Delroy Chuck told our news team that the low conviction rate under the anti-gang legislation was not because the law is ineffective, but rather the twin problems of fear on the part of witnesses and inadequate police investigation.
"If the police concentrated more on intelligence gathering, on spearfishing rather than linear fishing, the likelihood is that more of these gangs could be dismantled," argued Chuck during a Gleaner Editors' Forum.
But in response least week, head of the police Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch (C-TOC), Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, told The Sunday Gleaner that the police investigations of gangs have been very strategic.
In a submission to The Sunday Gleaner, which is published in full online, since the passage of the law in 2014, 329 alleged gangsters have been arrested and charged with various offences, including being part of a criminal organisation and aiding and abetting a criminal organisation.
Those targeted included the deadly St Catherine-based One Order and Klansman gangs and the West Kingston-based Scare Dem criminal gang.
"With respect to the latter, a yearlong intensive investigation led to 12 members being charged and taken before the court, including the (alleged) leader (Omar Spaulding)," said Chambers.
The Ski-Mask gang, which has been linked to several murders and other violent incidents in St James, has also been disrupted recently with six of its members, including the alleged leader, Oswyn Jarret, killed in a reported confrontation with members of the security forces last month.
A seventh member of that gang, Jermaine 'Badbwoy' Samuels, who the police said was its third in command, was fatally shot during a confrontation with the police in Old Harbour Bay, St Catherine, where he had gone in a bid to escape the police.
The police are also hot on the trail of two other alleged members of the Ski-Mask gang, Marlon McIntosh, otherwise called 'Pinky', and Robert Miller, otherwise called 'Robbie' or 'Dust'.
"In addition to the pursuit of criminal gangs, the spotlight has also been turned on lottery scamming syndicates, leading to 21 such criminal suspects being charged under the Criminal Justice Suppression of Criminal Organisation Act," declared Chambers.
He said the police also seized a range of counterfeit products valued at more than $21 million, "depriving lower-level criminal gangs of illicit income used to purchase firearms and ammunition".
The C-TOC head also scoffed at the claim that "if the police were making greater effort to protect the identity of witnesses more gangs would have been dismantled".
Blake said investigators of criminal gangs have consistently protected witnesses in investigations, through measures such as protecting their identities and keeping statements secured until required by law for disclosures to be made.
In defending the slow pace of completing cases against alleged gangsters, Chambers argued that these investigations are, by nature, time-consuming, resource-intensive and typically take years to complete by police departments faced with gang problems all over the world.
"Challenges are, however, inherent to the Jamaican culture, which sees threats of reprisals and an unwillingness of citizens to cooperate. This unwillingness is further influenced by the fact that members of criminal gangs provide financial benefits to some communities," said Chambers.
He agreed with the justice minister that a more user-friendly framework for plea-bargaining arrangements would provide the police with a good tool to get the gangsters, and called for speedier trials of criminal gang cases before the courts.
But Chambers was adamant that the 2014 legislation needs to be tweaked despite Chuck's rejection of claims that flaws in the law have reduced its effectiveness as a crime-fighting tool.
"Major gaps have been found in a number of areas under the anti-gang law. For instance, this legislation provides no power of search and seizure, nor does it allow for interception of communication. Representation is being made to the authorities for these and other failings to be rectified," said Chambers.
With a reported 258 criminal gangs now operating in Jamaica, it is estimated that up to 65 per cent of the 1,350 murders committed across the island last year were gang related.