Attorney-at-law Milton Samuda has challenged the 450 neighbourhood watch groups across the island to not embrace or encourage vigilante justice as they seek to vigorously protect their communities.
Samuda was speaking recently at the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Neighbourhood Watch Conference held under the theme 'Neighbourly Action for Community Safety and Security Satisfaction'.
"Watchers are not and must never be supporters of executioners; vigilante justice has no place in a civilised society and it certainly has no place in your movement," he said.
Samuda pleaded with the 'watchers' to allow the legal system to take its course.
"Watchers are not police officers, policing is to be left to the police. Watchers are not prosecutors, prosecuting must be left to the representatives of the state. Watchers are not judges, questions of innocence, guilt and punishment must be left to our judges, jurors and the justice system."
He made the remarks against the background of a number of incidents in Jamaica in recent weeks in which citizens have resorted to vigilante justice as a means of administering their own form of punishment on alleged criminals.
Samuda said Jamaicans have the tendency to "beat around the bush" and not speak decisively on many issues, but this should stop.
"One of the things we do in Jamaica is that we equivocate about things that are really clear. If something is wrong it is wrong and there is no need for a debate. Let us simply get it right and repudiate such action without further equivocation."
He spoke of the positive effects neighbourhood watches have on communities, charging its operatives to breathe new life into defunct groups and to pave the way for the formation of new groups.
"There is evidence that communities which have active neighbourhood watch groups continue to reap the benefits of low incidence of crime especially property crime, low fear of crime and a focus on community safety and security."
Samuda, however, bemoaned the fact that many groups have fallen by the wayside and the communities have not been reaping the benefits that a neighbourhood watch brings.
"I am concerned that only above half of the groups launched are active. It, therefore, means that other communities are not enjoying those same benefits, so it is something that we must do something about."
He challenged the members of these communities to use the conference to honestly evaluate their work as they seek to set the tone going forward.
"In Jamaica, we do not like to be detained by the facts but you must dissect the failures, learn from the past so as to guide your action in the present and for the future."
He said collective efforts to fight crime must never be seen as a substitute for police work.
"It is not an abandonment of their (the JCF's) responsibility. It is in fact a sharing, an expansion of that responsibility by spreading it corporately through communities. We all have to reduce the incidence of crime."