Thu | Jul 19, 2018

Clamp down on ‘clans’ - State of emergency in St Catherine North after warring gangsters claim 48 lives in 76 days

Published:Monday | March 19, 2018 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall/Associate Editor
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) shows the media a copy of the gazette as he declares a state of public emergency in the St Catherine North Police Division during a press conference at Jamaica House yesterday. Also in picture are Robert Montague (right), minister of national security, and acting Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake.

A split in the deadly Clansman gang has been playing out violently across sections of the St Catherine North Police Division and is believed to be the main driver behind a 60 per cent increase in murders in the area since the start of this year.

With 48 persons murdered in the division since January, up from 30 over the corresponding period last year, the police have reported that their intelligence indicates the possibility of further criminal activity in the area due to clashes between the former friends who are now bitter rivals.

"The St Catherine North Division has the largest gang in the island, the Clansman gang. This gang has been responsible for scores of murders, robberies and extortion, not only in St Catherine," Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake said yesterday on his final day as acting commissioner.

Blake noted that the gang operates a high-level extortion racket and a fight to control this lucrative illegal business has played out in deadly fashion around the Spanish Town bus park, on Jones Avenue, and in Linstead in recent months.

The criminal activities of the gangsters were among the threats to law and order that members of the security forces took to Prime Minister Andrew Holness to convince him to impose a state of public emergency in the division starting yesterday.

Holness told an early-morning media briefing at Jamaica House that the state of public emergency will be in effect for an initial 14 days and will give members of the security forces enhanced power to deal with an extensive threat.

"Under these enhanced security measures, the security forces will have extraordinary powers and some rights will be suspended," Holness said at a media briefing at Jamaica House yesterday morning.

"The security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of businesses, access to places and to detain persons without a warrant. All persons using all roads leading into, and out of, St Catherine North will be subject to vehicle and personal search.

"This does not mean that the use of these extraordinary powers can be arbitrary or are beyond review. The security forces are expected, and have been directed, to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all," added Holness.

The prime minister was supported by head of the Jamaica Defence Force Major General Rocky Meade, who said the members of the security forces would continue to respect the rights of citizens, as is now being done in the other areas such as St James, where they are operating with extraordinary powers.