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Extortion hush-hush - Cops lose count of cost of crime as reports dry up

Published:Thursday | March 2, 2017 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Divisional detective inspector Balvey Thomas: “We know it is happening, but we are not getting the reports.”

Extortion continues to be a major source of income for criminals operating in Spanish Town, St Catherine, but the police have lost track of just how much this illegal activity is costing the business community. This admission comes nine months after the cops put the 2015 take by gangsters at a conservative $400 million.

"We know it is happening, but we are not getting the reports," Balvey Thomas, divisional detective inspector for St Catherine North, told a Gleaner Municipal Corporation Forum at the Social Development Commission's offices on Monday.

Despite assurances from the police about confidentiality in treating with their complaints, only three reports were made by transport operators for all of last year. However, the police insist that this is not because the criminals have taken their business elsewhere. Fear of reprisal by the gangsters continues to be a major deterrent for their victims.

Thomas pointed to some of the difficulties in investigating cases of extortion.

"You hear about a man doing it, you pick him up, he denies it, and that's it," he said, reiterating the importance of cooperation by law-abiding citizens. "They (businesses) have a role to report it, and there are several avenues to do this. So if you don't feel comfortable calling us, then you call elsewhere and make the report, and somebody will be there to collect the statement, and it will be kept confidential."

This reticence on the part of the victims is the major stumbling block affecting investigations of extortion head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Counter-Terrorism and Organised Investigation Branch Senior Superintendent Clifford Chambers disclosed last year June.

"It is a very tricky situation as even when you contact business persons, they are not helping us. Even when you tell them that the police are able to install a covert mechanism in their businesses to gather information to prosecute those involved, they still don't agree," he told The Gleaner.

In 2015, The Gleaner reported:

- Criminals are raking in an estimated $1.5 million per day from a major extortion racket in the commercial district of Spanish Town, St Catherine.

- Preliminary investigations were suggesting that buses at the bus park in Spanish Town were mandated to pay $1,100 a day by the extortionists.

- At least 30 persons believed to be involved in the multimillion-dollar extortion racket were on a police watch list.

- The extortion racket, according to the police, was run by members of the notorious Clansman gang.

- The gang's extortion racket stretched from Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, to sections of Portmore and elsewhere in St Catherine.

In 2016, The Gleaner reported:

- The problem of extortion, according to the police, is made worse by uncooperative business people. (This was stated at a Gleaner Growth Forum).

- The police said that they have done a fair job at curtailing crime in the commercial area of Spanish Town.