Tue | Oct 19, 2021

St James sees 222% increase in murders

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2021 | 12:17 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor

WESTERN BUREAU:

The murderous rampage in St James since the start of the year has outpaced corresponding 2020 figures by 222 per cent, with disputes between families and friends proving deadlier than gang feuds.

Between January 1 and February 24, St James recorded 29 homicides, compared to nine for the corresponding period last year, making it the police division with the highest percentage increase in murders. Kingston Central with a 78 per cent increase (moving from nine last year to 16 for the period this year) and St Thomas (moving from three to five murders) follow next.

In terms of homicide victims, St James also emerges as the deadliest police division, with St Andrew South following behind with 28 deaths.

“We are seeing a growing number of domestic murders, where family members and friends are resorting to violence to settle their differences,” Superintendent Vernon Ellis, the commanding officer for St James, said in assessing the situation.

He noted that gang killings had seen a spike at the start of the year but has quietened down somewhat with the arrest of some key suspects and the seizure of numerous illegal firearms.

Ellis, however, expressed concern about the proliferation of guns in some communities that were not usually on the police’s radar – “rural communities like Springmount, Maroon Town, and Cambridge” – despite last year’s seizure of 116 firearms being the highest by the division in a single year.

Despite the bloody picture, Ellis said that the 29 murders over two months is an improvement on recent years when the northwestern parish was seeing 30 killings monthly.

“While we see every murder as one murder too much, we have seen worse days,” said Ellis, who took command of St James on the back of a record 342 murders in 2017.

He noted the seizure of 30 illegal firearms, arrests of three of the parish’s most wanted men, and the use of DNA to reopen a number of cold cases as successes since the start of the year.

He suggested that a new multiagency crime-fighting strategy would reap further fruit.

“The multiagency approach will take us to the root of policing. It will cover infractions at every level – traffic breaches, money-laundering, drug smuggling, lottery scamming, stealing water, stealing electricity, illegal vending, squatting, breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act ... . We are looking at taking a zero-tolerance [approach] to crime across the board,” said Ellis.

Some stakeholders in the parish, including Ellis and St James North Western Member of Parliament Dr Horace Chang, have supported the idea of a new state of emergency (SOE) to be imposed on the parish since a spike in killings after the last such measure came to an end last year.

The Government is now appealing a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that the detention of five men under the SOEs was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, Chang, who is also the national security minister, told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum that the Government would not declare another SOE until the appeal had been heard.

On a national level, murders are up by 13 percent, with 221 homicides up to February 24 as opposed to 208 for the same period last year.

adrian.frater@gleanerjm.com