Transfer backlash - St James stakeholders say changing of guard won't repel crime wave
Battered and besieged by the spate of murders that has rocked the parish all year, business leaders in St James are not encouraged by the news that there will be a changing of the guard in the police hierarchy, with Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Warren Campbell coming in to replace SSP Marlon Nesbeth on November 8.
In fact, Gloria Henry, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), said, "The changing of commanding officer is a tried and tested solution that has not been effective in the past," adding that she doubts this was the best approach to deal with escalating crime in the parish.
"I have always maintained, and still feel strongly, that the tenure or leadership for the commanding officer for a police command area should be a minimum of
three years unless there are extenuating circumstances dictating otherwise," said Henry.
"This would allow the leadership to become familiar with the peculiar nuances of the area. It would facilitate some kind of community relations/ understanding/learning curve by the commanding officer, as well as the building of relationships with the community and rank and file officers."
Attorney-at-law Nathan Robb, who on Monday told The Gleaner that Montego Bay was in a crisis and that the minister of national security seemed clueless of any method or process to arrest the lawlessness, said new commanding officers without the requisite resources would not solve the problem.
"You will have 50 new commanding officers sent here, but they will all fail without the resources to deal with the St James and western Jamaica situation," said Robb, a former president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI).
"St James and Westmoreland alone have accounted for more than 300 murders, far more than Kingston, but they still mistakenly seek to police and tackle crime in the same way they do in Kingston! There is no wholistic political affiliation that binds these gangs together. Unlike Kingston, there [are] no political gangs, so no gang member here is bound geographically as in the years of garrison criminality in Kingston. Nesbeth is a cog in a wheelchair that needs some serious attention."
Current MBCCI President T'Shura Gibbs is also not a fan of the constant chopping and changing in the St James Police High Command, as according to her, it undermines continuity in the development of projects designed to battle crime.
"The concern for the chamber is that there is no continuity plan. When one officer leaves, his programmes and anti-crime strategy [are] shelved and you have to go around building trust again," said Gibbs. "We need stability. The commanding officer must be given the opportunity to establish his network and the chance to forge relationships with rank and file officers and local stakeholders. We continue to see these tactics being employed, of the constant changing of officers, and then we are right back to square one."
Change of commanding officer will have no effect on crime, say residents
Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, does not support the reassigning of Senior Superintendent of Police Marlon Nesbeth, who will be replaced by SSP Warren Campbell on November 8 as head of the St James Police Division.
"This is not good. We need a steady hand in Montego Bay, who can guide the process and improve the crime situation. As soon as you get used to one, he or she is suddenly removed," said Robinson.
The sentiment on the streets is similar, as worried residents hoping and praying for a fix to crime think the transfer of Nesbeth is merely cosmetic and will not make any difference to the spike in homicides. There have been 254 murders in St James since the start of the year - just 10 short of last year's record 264.
"A mus draughts (a board game) di commissioner deh play. Every three month, dem change commanding officer and di crime still a beat wi," a frustrated taxi operator told The Gleaner. "If di commissioner tink him have di answer, why him don't station himself inna MoBay and tek charge a tings?"
Interestingly, just hours before the announcement of his transfer, Nesbeth was on the radio conceding that, outside of Mt Salem, the zone of special operations was having very little spillover effect on the general state of violence in St James.