Going after St. James' crime monster
With the crime situation in St James again getting worrisome, especially in light of recent incidents such as the quadruple murder in Cambridge, in which an eight-year-old child was among those killed, some stakeholders in the parish think much more than a policing solution is needed.
"As valuable as leadership is, fighting crime in St James cannot revolve around an individual, but there must be greater effort to ensure that all the strategic elements that are put together are given effective expressions," said tourism expert Edmund Bartlett, the member of parliament for Eastern St James.
"St James' crime problem has to be dealt with in a holistic way, which involves all the stakeholders - the church, the business community, the political leadership, civil society interests, schools and the police," added Bartlett.
In the aftermath of the quadruple killings, which took place in the Richmond Hill section of Cambridge, Dr Carl Williams, Jamaica's police commissioner, who visited the area, told residents that seasoned crime-fighter Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Steve McGregor and a team of top-flight detectives would soon be dispatched to St James with a mandate to restore law and order.
Towards the end of last year, major crimes, especially murders, were trending down in St James, giving numerous stakeholders, including the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, hope that the long-standing crime situation would finally be contained.
"The Chamber will always be happy for statistics, which indicate a decrease generally, and we would commend the police for their efforts and encourage citizens to continue to give information and support," Nathan Robb, the chamber president, said at the time.
However, with just over three months gone in 2015, St James is now the nation's 'most murderous' parish with over 40 murders to date. Marauding gunmen are again targeting vulnerable communities, murdering and maiming with impunity.
"I have never been this afraid in my life," a resident stated during the visit of the police commissioner to Richmond Hill. "We are in a terrible state ... . Almost every community has their own gunmen."
Top hotelier Godfrey Dyer, a former police officer, said he welcomes the return of SSP McGregor, who, according to him, served the parish well in his previous stint as commanding officer.
"I am optimistic about his return. He did a fairly good job when he was here ... I know it is a tough job, but based on the reports, SSP McGregor has been excellent in Central and Western Kingston divisions," said Dyer. "The general weakness is that not much is being done about the smaller crimes, but with proper supervision and a zero-tolerance approach by the police, St James can see a significant reduction in crime."
Businessman Yoni Epstein, the president of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica, which is widely seen as the sector poised to be the catalyst for future job creation in St. James, is also supportive of SSP McGregor, saying he has full confidence in his leadership.
"I have worked with SSP McGregor in the past. He is a good man for St James at this time ... . I am sure that with the right team in place, he will be very effective," said Epstein." Crime dropped when he was here the first time, and his policing style demonstrates that he has his head in the right place."
During last year's significant lull in crime under the leadership of SSP Egbert Parkinson, the police statistics showed that murders were down by 8.5 per cent over the comparative period in 2013. At the time, the police were full of praise for the cooperation they were getting from citizens.
"We have been working closely with the citizens and it is their support and cooperation that is making the difference," Parkinson said at the time. "They had become sick and tired of seeing too many coffins, so they are working with the police to help create safer communities."
At the time, Parkinson, nonetheless, stated that there were some criminal elements in the parish who were still on the streets because the police did not have the hard evidence required to apprehend them.
"There are some known gangsters who we don't have enough on to arrest them," said Parkinson. "We have met with them (the gangsters) and made it clear to them that we will be watching their every action. We are not going to let this parish go back to where it is coming from."