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Gang buster, Security minister vows to disrupt criminal networks

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

THE POLICE are going to be given additional powers to target gangsters as part of increased efforts to disrupt criminal gangs.

With a record 1,680 murders last year, and the majority being labelled gang-related, National Security Minister Dwight Nelson yesterday outlined the broad parameters of a new gang-busting plan.

However, there were none of the draconian measures which he had promised in an address to a party function last Sunday.

In fact, Nelson was short on the details of how the plan would be implemented.

Instead, he used his State of the Nation address in the Senate to forcefully state the objectives, which are to be facilitated through the introduction of anti-gang legislation.

Later, Nelson told The Gleaner that the anti-gang legislation would give the police more ammunition to fight gang members.

"Where the circumstances establish the presence of gangs, the police will be given the power to move against them," said Nelson.

He downplayed, but did not dismiss, claims that members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) would be given additional power in this fight against the gangsters.

"I had discussions with the (JDF head) chief of defence staff, but that is not an issue which the Cabinet or the Government has considered," Nelson told The Gleaner.

Earlier, members of the Senate listened attentively as Nelson pointed to the devastating impact criminal gangs were having on Jamaica.

268 gangs

He said a gang threat assessment survey undertaken last year showed that there were 268 gangs operating in the 19 policing divisions across the island.

"The data also shows that the urban policing divisions of Kingston and St Andrew, St James, Clarendon and St Catherine account for 74 per cent of the total number of gangs."

According to Nelson, some of these gangs are collaborating with criminal networks overseas in their criminal operations with "large gangs, such as One Order, Klansman, Umbrella and Rat Bat having influence and control spanning several parishes".

He said the anti-gang legislation, which was being fast-tracked, would be designed to allow the police to target, infiltrate and dismantle criminal gangs while identifying and arresting gang members.

developing intelligence

With opposition senators appearing to support some of his comments, Nelson said the police would also develop intelligence as to each gang member's association and participation as part of efforts to disrupt the gangs.

"(We will) minimise the gangs' ability to reorganise by having each defendant enter into substantial assistance agreements, plea-bargaining, for example," Nelson said.

The security minister also told the Senate that additional legislation would be enacted this year to give the security forces the tools they needed to fight crime.

These include the six anti-crime bills that are already before the House, a DNA evidence bill, and legislation for the electronic tagging and monitoring of certain categories of prison inmates and offenders.

"We hold firm to the view that as a matter of policy, we have to provide the security forces (with) an environment that is conducive to their acting most effectively as they carry out their operational activities," said Nelson.