Mon | Aug 19, 2019

Shaw backs tasers to fight farm thieves - Says drastic measures require draconian action

Published:Sunday | May 5, 2019 | 12:35 AMChristopher Serju - Gleaner Writer
Director of BioSecure, Nkrumah Green (left), explains to Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang the latest biological option the company is offering to address farm theft. Owners of farm produce make a mark on the their produce, which is invisible to the naked eye but lights up brightly when exposed to ultraviolet light. They were at the CIB AGM at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston on Saturday.

Seemingly exasperated by the prevalence of praedial larceny in Jamaica, Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw has endorsed the use of stun guns to disarm and accost criminals who pillage crops and steal livestock.

Shaw’s riposte, delivered at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Coconut Industry Board at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston yesterday, was a direct contradiction of National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, who, moments before, had incurred the ire of coconut growers over his refusal to give tacit support to apprehension measures outside of the law.

Yesterday, Chang turned down a request from Roger Turner, managing director of Tulloch Estates in St Catherine, to allow farmers to use tasers to detain farm thieves for police arrest. Turner’s proposal was well received by farmers at the AGM.

Turner cited that he and many other coconut farmers had come under machete and gun attack by thieves.

But Shaw gave unqualified support to the call for stun guns despite their illegality.

“If tasers are to be part of the solution, I agree with it. Yes, if you can freeze a man in his position, stealing you things, an you freeze him until the police come, that’s wah the taser can do?”

A resounding “Yes!” from the coconut growers gave Shaw more gusto.

“Do it! Mek we try it, and the human-rights activists them can come and tell we wah we can’t do,” he declared to resounding applause. “Mek I tell you something: We inna serious trouble, you hear, and drastic situations where we are overrun by criminality must be dealt with in a drastic way as well. We must have drastic solutions as well.”

The agriculture minister poured scorn on the receipt system that stipulated that the transporters of produce and livestock must have documentary proof of sale, suggesting that it had virtually collapsed.

“The police ... are not enforcing it. And I don’t want the police to think I’m attacking them or my colleague minister, but if we set up a system, let us enforce it, and we have to be resolute in our activities otherwise the criminals are going to overcome us, and to think that they are so brazen.”

Shaw recently admitted that the Praedial Larceny Unit, staffed by police personnel, was woefully under-resourced and called for its overhaul.

Court soft on farm thieves

Yesterday, the agriculture minister urged Chang and the Andrew Holness-led Cabinet to press for a legislative review that would remove discretionary sentencing by judges, hinting that judicial verdicts had been soft on farm thieves. He urged that farmers who used violent means of defending their livelihood be treated leniently.

Earlier, Chang had sought to defuse the explosive anger of the coconut growers by outlining plans for curtailing crime, with an emphasis on legislative reform and investment in retooling and infrastructural improvement of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The security minister had outlined plans for major investments in digital and other technology as the answer to taming the crime monster, but Turner pooh-poohed those developments, saying they could not deter theft on his farm.

“Save your money!” Turner advised the national security minister. “I was lucky to film two policemen stealing lumber from me, and they were found guilty. After 21 visits to court over four years and they were found guilty on Friday (May 3). In this room, Minister, are all the policemen you need,” the farmer said in an impassioned appeal.

“Afford us the legislation to intentionally shoot a taser at a thief as he leaves our boundary with our goats, our coconuts, or our pumpkin.”

Tasers are banned from general use in Jamaica and are accessible mainly by stakeholders in the security industry. The Jamaica Customs Agency lists tasers as restricted items under Section 210 of the Customs Act, which mandates approval from the minister of national security and an import licence or permit.

A Sunday Gleaner investigation has revealed that stun guns are illegally pouring through Customs and can be acquired for as cheap as $5,000.

Farmers lose an estimated J$6 billion to thieves annually, and there are few prosecutions.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com