Mon | Sep 25, 2017

St Mary police to attack murder in 2017

Published:Tuesday | January 3, 2017 | 1:00 AMOrantes Moore
Dwight Powell

PORT MARIA, St Mary:

Although it took law enforcement officers in St Mary just nine weeks to capture and charge two men for the April 2016 killing of US missionaries Harold Nichols and Randy Hentzel, in recent times, critics have accused the parish's police force of taking a lacklustre approach to solving homicides.

St Mary's police chief, Deputy Superintendent Dwight Powell, intends to address the issues by launching several high-impact initiatives in 2017 and forging stronger links with residents to tackle major crimes, and more importantly, their underlying causes.

Speaking earlier this week from his office in Port Maria, Powell said that while in 2016 the parish had experienced one murder more than in the previous year, a 17 per cent drop in all other major crimes suggests that the parish still remains one of the safest in the country.

He told The Gleaner: "The unfortunate thing is that as a police force, we allow the public to judge us by the number of murders committed on the island. Even though you may significantly reduce robberies, shootings, break-ins, larceny, sexual offences, and aggravated assaults, as long as murder is up, it seems as though the police aren't doing enough.

 

A SOCIAL CRIME

 

"But we should understand there are few things the police cannot control, such as murder, because that is a social crime. Domestic offences have added significantly to the murder statistics in St Mary, so you try to at least see how best those offences can be treated, but as long as murders are up, the fear of crime will always be there, and sometimes, it's the perception that influences the reality."

According to government statistics, 37 per cent of murders are committed by either a relative or someone with whom the victim was intimately involved, but this year, that figure is more than 10 per cent higher in St Mary, where 15 of the 31 killings were related to a domestic dispute.

In recent years, St Mary's police force has developed arguably the island's best Community Safety and Security Department, and Powell insists that their work is one of the main reasons incidents of violent crime remain relatively stable.

He explained: "If we never had the kind of intervention we have, those numbers would have been much worse. It's all down to the kind of intervention that we have put in place. We saw this would have been a worrying trend for St Mary, so we have trained and assigned domestic liaison officers to each of the 11 police stations in the parish.

"In 2017, the major focus will be on treating murders because that is what we are judged by, so we will be reorganising some policing outfits and redeploying resources in specific areas for maximum effect.

"One of the things people will see is more robust policing of our primary hotspots - Annotto Bay, Port Maria, and Oracabessa. Those communities contributed to over 60 per cent of our murders, so our efforts will be concentrated in those areas.

"We'll also be increasing intelligence-driven operations to see how best we can work in partnership with our stakeholders to build better relationship with the citizens of this parish."

rural@gleanerjm.com