Residents slam ‘tourist cops’ - Police defend MoBay strategy in face of criticisms
With 42 murders recorded in St James since the start of the year, several residents of the parish are questioning the capacity of the security forces to clamp down on the bloodletting they face almost daily.
Since a frightening increase in murders in the parish last year, the police have placed increased manpower in and around Montego Bay, while the Jamaica Defence Force has sent dozens of soldiers to patrol the streets.
But the parish still ended with 268 murders last year, and fearful residents say that number could be equalled this year as the police and soldiers in the island's tourism capital are nothing more than tourists.
"We are not fighting crime, we are just paying lip service to crime," declared higgler Dawn Smith, as she watched crime-scene investigators processing the scene where former national goalkeeper Devon 'Kid Harris' Dunkley was murdered in downtown Montego Bay just over one week ago.
"Having soldiers and police driving around like tourists while people are being killed is not fighting crime, it is a sick joke," continued Smith. "People are not hopeful, they are worried about who will be next.
"We rarely catch any gunmen and we are not seizing many of the illegal guns that the criminals are using to slaughter good people like Kid Harris," added Smith.
Like the worried Smith, many residents of Montego Bay are not impressed with the work of the police both in terms of curbing lawlessness and working with the communities to secure vital intelligence.
INTERACT WITH THE PEOPLE
"The police need to come into the community and interact with the people, that is how they are going to get the intelligence required to fight crime," said a youth club leader, who asked not to be identified.
"Criminals don't have 'criminal' written on their foreheads, so you need intelligence to identify them," added the young man.
But head of the St James police, Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, has rejected the claim that they are not doing enough to tame the crime monster that has been unleashed in the parish.
"There is always this talk from people who don't necessarily understand the operations of the police, and certainly the military, as to how we go about dealing with the issues that confront them and come also to us forcibly," Nesbeth told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We have several places in St James that we police and we call them hotspots. Some of these areas are Barrett Town, Flankers, Norwood, Glendevon, Tall Spring, Rose Heights, Crawford Street, Piggot Street, Granville, Anchovy, Cambridge, and Springmount.
"The Flankers area is a perennial concern area for us. We continue with our outreach programme. We are in that community 24 hours a day around the clock in our containment attempts. The fact is you have a major gang in there that is spilt now and they have been fighting each other.
"There is leadership from one end they call Uptown Sparta and there is leadership from another end they call Downtown Sparta, with one being aligned to one of our so-called entertainers and the other to a fellow who is said to be in England," added Nesbeth.
He said the major problem facing the security forces, as they try to address crime in St James, is the lack of support from the very people they are trying to protect.
"Even when we go in to reach out you don't get the feeling that they are buying in and trying to work with us," said Nesbeth.
"Our main thrust right now is to reach out to the communities and reassure and work with them. Since this year started we have put in some initiatives as we try to get into the communities. So much so we have had 65 of those meetings already.
"People need to tell what they know; it is very important. They have to assist us in our endeavours. We are asking persons to start up neighbourhood watches, but these persons are reluctant to put out efforts around their own safety," added Nesbeth.
But Nesbeth's pronouncements give little comfort to residents of Rose Heights, where seven persons have been shot, two fatally, in the past three weeks.
Pastor Knollis King, who heads the Rose Heights Covenant of Peace, which once brokered a deal which saw no murders in the community for more than one year, is adamant that the failure of the cops to continue safety and security initiatives which were introduced when Senior Super-intendent Steve McGregor headed the division is a major part of the problem.
"The programme came to a halt when Mr McGregor was transferred," said King. "For our programmes to grow, we need the kind of hands-on support we were getting from Mr McGregor, as well as support from the business community and our political representatives.
"I am not bad-mouthing the current crime chief, but we had a good thing going with SSP McGregor. If he was still here I am sure at least the programmes that require the support of the police would be up and running," said King.
Police reaping success in St James
Head of the St James police, Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, says policing measures introduced in the parish are reaping success despite claims by some residents that they are not seeing any effective crime-fighting work from members of the security forces.
- Since this year, we have arrested more than 800 persons for minor offences in our public spaces.
- We have issued more than 13,000 traffic tickets.
- We have arrested more than 400 persons on warrants.
- We have seized 20 firearms.
- We have arrested nine wanted men.
- We have seized more than 320 offensive weapons.
- We have removed over 1,500 tints from these types of vehicles.