Thu | Jun 1, 2023

Relocation danger

Bishop fears moving Westmoreland police HQ could lead to more deaths

Published:Wednesday | January 19, 2022 | 12:08 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer


MORE PEOPLE could be killed if the divisional headquarters (HQ) for the Westmoreland police is relocated outside the parish capital to Llandilo, says former violence interrupter Bishop O’Neil Russell.

Russell, who is also the pastor of the Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity Church in the violence-torn parish, is calling for a rethink of plans. Going ahead with the relocation could mean further loss of life amid the ongoing feud between neighbouring communities in downtown Savanna-la-Mar.

“If you move the station, people downtown cannot go up to Llandilo to make a report because they have a lot of places to pass, especially where they can lose their life,” Russell said in a Gleaner interview.

Russell argued that the proposal to move the police station would provide easier access for warring factions to launch attacks and escape long before the police could respond.

“The people are afraid, and a lot of them don’t even want to come downtown Savanna-la-Mar anymore, so to move the station, that will further jeopardise downtown,” the clergyman said.

Russell’s concern is supported by George Wright, the independent member of parliament for Westmoreland Central, who said constituents will need continuous police protection.

“The police will have to maintain a post there, based on the level of crime and violence taking place, especially in that area of the parish,” Wright told The Gleaner. “It would make absolutely no sense (having no police post); there will have to be a substation in the town.”

Wright, however, acknowledged that the divisional headquarters is in a deplorable state and welcomed the decision to build a new facility.

“In a sense, it’s a good move because the current facility is not conducive to do business, because the structure of the building itself is derelict,” Wright said.

The Government declared, with the governor general’s approval, southern Savanna-la-Mar a zone of special operations covering the communities of Russia, Dexter Street, and Dalling Street.

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang told stakeholders at a town-hall meeting in the parish last week that the new divisional headquarters would be built in Llandilo. The contract has gone to tender.

In February 2021, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke told Parliament that a new $200-million police divisional headquarters was to be constructed in Westmoreland and that 40 per cent of building activities would have been completed during fiscal year 2021-22.

Dr Karl Blythe, a former senior People’s National Party Cabinet minister and four-term MP for Westmoreland Central, welcomed the update provided by Chang about the plans for the new police headquarters and supported the relocation to Llandilo.

He noted that the police are in need of space to properly operate, which its current location on Great George Street does not provide.

“It is better to put them there (Llandilo) than to have them taking up what I call critical commercial areas, which is already a crammed space. I wouldn’t have a problem in having it relocated there,” Blythe said of the new Westmoreland police headquarters.

“That building needs to be pulled down and replaced with a model police station,” he added, while expressing hope that the new facility will be one that is receptive to community policing.

Several efforts to get a response from the police and the Ministry of National Security were unsuccessful.