Superintendent Steve McGregor (left) and ACP Clifford Blake.
Adrian Frater, News Editor
Promoters and sound- system operators in western Jamaica will be required to play a new tune if they intend to survive in the entertainment business as the Area One Police High Command, with immediate effect, will enforce the Noise Abatement Act of 1997.
At a meeting at Freeport Police Station, in Montego Bay, on Thursday, St James' commanding officer, Superintendent Steve McGregor, and Area One divisional commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake, told some 30 sound-system operators, promoters and owners of entertainment venues, that the flexibility they previously enjoyed would be curtailed.
Zero tolerance approach
"We know it is the cultural norm for people to go out to parties at 2:00 a.m., which under the law is supposed to be the cut-off time," said Superintendent McGregor, who initiated the meeting to apprise stakeholders in the entertainment industry of the new zero-tolerance approach.
"As of now, we will be enforcing the requirement that states that events during the week should end at mid-night and those on the weekend should end at 2:00 a.m.," said Superintendent McGregor. "Don't let anybody tell you that every thing criss. A we run here yasso. If you breach the regulation, you will have to face the consequences."
In looking at the current situation, Superintendent McGregor pointed out the following flaws: Music is being played beyond the cut-off times (12:00 midnight during the week and 2:00 a.m. on weekends). Music causing a nuisance to the public. Musical events being kept in the street impeding vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Use of firearm at these events, resulting in injury or death to patrons. Use of drugs at these musical event. Traffic concerns improper parking which creates congestion. Breach of the NSWMA improper disposal of garbage. Abstraction of electricity illegally Expression of lewd lyrics by disc jockey. Attendance of children at these musical events.
While expressing a general understanding of the position taken by the police, some promoters said the prompt enforcement was too harsh, especially with regard to major pre-planned event. In fact, prominent Montego Bay promoter, Sonny Ranking, suggested that the new enforcement should be phased in gradually.
"This could result in great financial loss to promoters who have invested large sums of money in some of the events that are already planned," said Ranking.
Phased-in with events
"Those events already planned show be allowed to continue under the previous arrangement and the new situation phased in with the events to come in the future."
However, ACP Blake made it clear that the police would be enforcing the law and to back up their position, no police officer would be detailed to provide security beyond the legal cut-off period. He suggested that promoters seek to start their events earlier so that they could meet the cut-off time.
"There are no regulations to prevent you from starting an event at 6:00 p.m. So, you need to get creative and start your events early so that you can finish on time," said ACP Blake. "If you want the law to change, you will have to form yourselves into an organisation and lobby for that."
McGregor, who said he regularly authorised as much as 50 applications for entertainment events in St James per week, said he was rethinking granting permission for some events on weekdays because of the reluctance of some promoters to operate within the law.
People taking beds
"There are some events that should cut off at 2:00 a.m., which go until even after 8:00 a.m.," said McGregor. "There is now a new phenomenon, where you have people taking beds into the street for some of the dances they are now doing."
In response to one promoter, who noted that when the events went on until daybreak, it created a kind of safety net for persons, especially women, who otherwise would have to return to their homes during the hours of darkness, Blake said the police were obligated to protect the rights of those who were being disturbed by the loud music at all hours of the night.
"If you can find some places that are not in proximity to structured communities, hospitals, hotels, guest houses, nursing homes, you would be helping the situation," said Blake. "If you are operating in these areas, we don't have to get a complaint to act, we can presume that a noise nuisance is being created and either turn down or turnoff the sound system."
In outlining what is expected of the police with regard to entertainment events, McGregor outlined the following obligations, among others: Refusal of application where it is deemed that the music will be a source of nuisance. Refusal of application for venues with a history of violence. Place ban on promoters whose events have caused problems in the past. Refusal of application for venues without entertainment licence. Refuse application if artistes with bad reputation/influence are involved with the event.
While not expressing a desire to seize sound systems or prosecute promoters, sound-system operators or owners of venues, McGregor said the police were willing and ready to act.
"Although we would like to make it the last resort, if we have to seize the sound system and take legal action against you, we will," McGregor told entertainment stakeholders. "We have some trucks that we have already designated to do so. If we face any resistance, that could lead to additional actions."
Quizzed as to whether the new zero-tolerance approach would impact major events such as 'Reggae Sumfest', the 'Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival' and events along Montego Bay's tourism belt the 'Hip Strip', McGregor said all violators would be treated in the same way, which could include the following: Monitoring of areas to prevent the unauthorised staging of musical events. Monitoring of approved musical events. Locking down of music systems being played beyond the cut-off time. Prosecution of violators.
Arrest where desirable. Seizure of equipment if necessary.
In light of the new situation, Sonny Ranking said he would be initiating the formation of an umbrella organisation for all promoters and sound-system operators so as to bring uniformity to their operations as well as to create a platform from which to negotiate when there is a need to do so.
"It would not be in our best interest to get into any confrontation with the police, so, as a body, we will have to sit down and come up with creative ways to protect our livelihood," stated Ranking. "The police have a job to do and we have a livelihood to protect, so we will just have to find a way to work together."
While the St James police have taken the lead in this new initiative, of ensuring compliance with the Noise Abatement Act, which has never been treated with universal seriousness, Blake said it formed a part of a drive by Police Commissioner Rear Admiral, Hardley Lewin, and would ultimately be enforced islandwide.