Claudine Housen/Staff Photographer
Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Area One, Keith 'Trinity' Gardner during a police press conference in Montego Bay last year.
Adrian Frater, News Editor
After 17 months as the commanding officer for Area One Police Division, inclusive of Trelawny, St. James, Hanover and Westmoreland, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Keith 'Trinity' Gardner has requested a reassignment to Kingston, citing family reasons.
His request, which he wants to take effect at the completion of his current vacation leave, is being viewed with sadness by the general public and business community in the west, especially in Montego Bay, where the professionalism he has exhibited in the dismantling of criminal gangs and traffic management has won him wholesale respect.
"I can understand him wanting to be close to his family especially since he has young children," said Montego Bay Businessman Mark Kerr-Jarrett. "There is no question that he has made a major impact on crime fighting and if he goes, we are certainly going to miss him."
When ACP Gardner arrived in Montego Bay in April 2005, crime was at an unprecedented level and climbing, with gang violence, especially in the inner-city areas, threatening to push the murder rate past the frightening 115 murders per year average the city had been experiencing since 2001.
here to make a difference
"I am here to make a difference, even if it means introducing aggressive measures to reduce crime," ACP Gardner said in outlining his resolve to rein in lawlessness. "Not aggressive in terms of the abuse of anybody's rights, but it will be strident, relentless and result oriented."
Utilising unconventional methods such as putting monetary rewards on the heads of gangsters and publishing their photographs in local newspapers soon had tips flowing in from the public. With the heat on them, some gangsters, especially members of the Norwood-based 'Stone Crusher' gang, fled the parish while others were either apprehended, turned themselves in or were killed in clashes with the police.
"He has really made his mark as we have had a significant reduction in major crime under his watch," said Pauline Reid, the president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "He is not one who just gives orders; he is usually out there on the ground leading from the front."
For the business community, the dismantling of the Stone Crusher gang, which was said to be responsible for over 80 per cent of the murders in St. James and a substantial number of the killings in adjoining parishes, was seen as a significant achievement.
Among the alleged top members of the Stone Crusher gang who have been taken out of circulation under the watch of ACP Gardner are the likes of top enforcer Delano 'Bigga Crime' Williams and alleged gang leader Michael 'Lassie' Forbes, who were reportedly killed in clashes with the police. Several alleged members are in custody facing murder charges while others such as Steve Morris, have been slapped with extended prison sentences.
"Things are a lot better these days. We can now go to church at nights again," said an elderly Norwood resident, who at one time was contemplating fleeing the community. "I am praying that Norwood will never again see the level of wickedness we experienced between January and July."
Better Traffic Management
While not attracting the same attention as his assault on gang violence, ACP Gardner has also kept his word to bring order to traffic management through rigorous enforcement. As a consequence, factors such as congestion along roadways, illegal parking and inadequate patrols, especially along the new north coast highway, are no longer areas of major concerns.
Unlike some of his predecessors, ACP Gardner earned many kudos from the public for his hands-on approach to traffic management as he is often seen on the road with his traffic team seeing to it that his plans for rigorous traffic control are maintained.
"I really admired the way he handled the whole matter of traffic management because you can see the difference in terms of the reduction in the level of indiscipline we used to see from motorists," said chamber president Reid. "There are times, especially in the mornings, when he (ACP Gardner) himself is out there directing traffic."
In summing up ACP Gardner's performance, Montego Bay businessman/political aspirant Errol Lamey, who is the president of the Mt. Salem-based RELIEF (Restoring Enjoyable Living In Each Family) committee, said the fact that he has managed to make a dent in crime, especially murders, and has succeeded in bringing some level of order to traffic management is a clear indication of success.
"As a community, safety is of paramount importance to all of us," said Mr. Lamey. "Success in the improvement of the quality of life is welcome since that must be the objective of any well-thinking citizen."