Clifford Chambers | Going after gangsters - The Jamaica Constabulary Force's experience in using the anti-gang law in 2014
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) offers clarity on the issue of the use of the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisation) Act in 2014 - otherwise called the anti-gang law - based on the recent article published in your newspaper (Jan 22, 2017).
The JCF's ongoing investigative effort into the activities of criminal gangs in Jamaica is very strategic, with a nucleus of investigators across the 19 geographic divisions dedicated to gang investigations.
These investigators are not only closely supervised but are guided by a gang investigators' manual, developed with the support of technicians in gang investigations, within and outside the JCF.
Since the passage of the law, 329 persons have been arrested and charged with various offences, including but not limited to:
1. Being a part of a criminal organisation;
2. Leading, managing and or directing a criminal organisation; and
3. Aiding and abetting a criminal organisation.
The more known criminal gangs most affected by these arrests were:
1. The One Order Criminal Gang
2. The Klansman Criminal Gang
3. The Strikers Criminal Gang
4. The Tel-A-Viv Criminal Gang
5. The Dirty Dozen Criminal Gang
6. The Scare Dem Criminal Gang
With respect to the latter, a yearlong intensive investigation led to 12 members being charged and taken before the court, including the leader.
In addition to the pursuit of criminal gangs, the spotlight has also been turned on lottery-scamming syndicates, leading to 21 such criminal suspects being charged under the Criminal Justice Suppression of Criminal Organisation Act.
The JCF's relentless investigations against all criminal gangs further resulted in seizures of a range of counterfeit products valued at over $21 million, depriving lower-level criminal gangs of illicit income used to purchase firearms and ammunition.
There have been assertions that "if the police were making greater effort to protect the identity of witnesses more gangs would have been dismantled".
The JCF sees witnesses as critical to the development of criminal gang cases. Investigators of criminal gangs, therefore, have long and consistently protected witnesses in gang investigations, through measures such as protecting their identities and keeping statements secured until required by law for disclosures to be made.
Representation has been made to acquire other technologies to safeguard witnesses, and we are assured that the work has begun to facilitate such acquisition and implementation.
Challenges with gang investigation and ongoing efforts to improve gang investigation
Gang investigations are time-consuming, resource-intensive and typically take years to complete by police departments faced with gang problems all over the world.
Challenges are, however, inherent to the Jamaican culture which sees threats of reprisals and an unwillingness of citizens to cooperate. This unwillingness is further influenced by the fact that members of criminal gangs provide financial benefits to some communities.
Experience is pointing to a need for a user-friendly framework for plea-bargaining arrangements; it is found that the best witnesses against criminal gangs tend to be gangsters themselves who participate in criminal activities.
The JCF would welcome speedier trials of criminal gang cases before the courts. At the same time, we will work with our parent ministry to enhance the capacity needed to improve investigative and evidence-gathering capabilities.
We will also continue to work with stakeholders in the criminal justice system to reduce challenges associated with the use of the legislation to ensure optimum effectiveness in the shortest possible time.
Major gaps have been found in a number of areas under the anti-gang law.
For instance, this legislation provides no power of search and seizure, nor does it allow for interception of communication. Representation is being made to the authorities for these and other failings to be rectified.
The causative factors of gang involvement are varied, and the JCF continues to advocate for multidimensional approaches and the framework for greater collaboration to reduce the presence and impact of gang culture in our communities.
- ACP Clifford Chambers is head of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch