Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Drug peddlers outfox cops on Negril beach - Concerned hoteliers call for army backup

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:48 AM
A section of Negril's famous seven-mile beach. Harassment and drug hustling continue to be concerns for tourist industry stakeholders.
A section of Negril's famous seven-mile beach. Harassment and drug hustling continue to be concerns for tourist industry stakeholders.

Despite the training and deployment of 45 tourism district constables to Negril in 2017, specifically to curtail harassment and prevent soliciting, drug peddlers and other hustlers continue to operate with impunity along the seven-mile beach strip.

Tourism stakeholders say, since that time, tourist harassment, particularly along the Long Bay Beach strip, has mushroomed to such a scale that it is threatening the viability of the product, as the perpetrators seem to have outwitted the constabulary.

The constables had been trained under the Tourism District Constable Programme in 2016, under a memorandum of understanding between the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

But with the state of emergency (SOE) under way in the western region where Negril is located, stakeholders are pleading for help from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to keep the harassers at bay in the interim, and for the Government to urgently address the situation.

A Gleaner team took to the beach strip last Wednesday morning to test the veracity of the hoteliers’ claims of drug peddling and harassment. Within minutes of arriving at the beach, shortly before 8 a.m., an approach was made by a drug peddler who introduced himself. He made small talk for less than a minute before offering to sell an ounce of ganja for US$120, which he claimed could provide smoking pleasure for seven days.

“Can you roll? Can you roll the joint?” he asked.

“I will give you this bag and you go and get the money. No problem, I trust you,” he said before taking out another bag from the backpack in which he carried the contraband, which he said weighed approximately two ounces, was valued at US$200, but would be offered at a discounted rate of US$160.

“I got hash; I got cake, brownie, and I have other stuff. I have powder – coke (cocaine). I got that, too. I got it, no problem; 3 ½ grams go for US$300 and half of it go for US$200. If you buy in bulk, it cheaper,” he explained.

Abe Issa Jr, proprietor of Couples Swept Away, says incidents such as this are not uncommon on the Negril beach, and contended that the Government has not placed enough emphasis on addressing the problem. He said the harassment concerns are evident on visitors’ TripAdvisor feedback, as even the positive comments about Negril reference the harassment issue.

Issa said that the problem is not being caused by fruit and trinket vendors from Negril and its environs, but by unscrupulous persons who migrate from other areas of the island. He said that Couples Swept Away resort was feeling the brunt of the harassment, as its year-round high occupancy was seen as a “feeding tree”.

“There is no order. Negril is the most famous destination in Jamaica and the Government has just not done a thing, so you can see that a lot of the market is going to Montego Bay and the north coast where it is completely secluded and private,” he said.

Issa added: “The police have made one or two arrests … . It is nowhere near enough. There is just not enough consistency there. All it takes is every mile to have officers enforcing the law, but it just seems hopeless at this point,” he added.

Hotelier Daniel Grizzle said he was confident that with soldiers even maintaining a minimal presence on the beach, along with strategic deployment of the police, the drug hustlers would stay away.

“The tourists are happy to see the soldiers around. Where in the world do you go these days, especially resort areas, and not see military people? It’s normal,” Grizzle said.

“Every now and again you see four to six police walk up and down the beach. If you break up that and have two police and two military people, you could have three different patrols rather than have one set of police march up, spend a couple hours and go back home,” he added.

Like Grizzle, Operations Manager Conrad Malcolm says that military support on the beach would be welcomed by both hoteliers and tourists. He said while there has been sporadic patrolling, the peddlers make use of phones to inform their co-conspirators about the presence of the police.

“What we need is more stationary persons in strategic areas along the stretch of beach that peddlers gain most of their business from. You just need senior persons to oversee the operations,” he said.