Wed | Oct 4, 2023

‘This madness must stop’

SSP Ellis declares ‘special emergency’ on St James’ gunmen

Published:Saturday | May 27, 2023 | 12:49 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor
Vernon Ellis (right), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), speaks with national security minister Dr Horace Chang (left) and Clifford Chambers, Assistant Commissioner of Police,  during a recent tour of the violence-torn community of Mount Salem in St Ja
Vernon Ellis (right), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), speaks with national security minister Dr Horace Chang (left) and Clifford Chambers, Assistant Commissioner of Police, during a recent tour of the violence-torn community of Mount Salem in St James. Declaring that “this madness must stop”, SSP Ellis says the police will step up their fight against gunmen in “emergency” mode.

WESTERN BUREAU:

WITH GANGSTERS in St James seemingly unperturbed by the Government’s new Firearm Act and security measures such as the state of emergency (SOE), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Vernon Ellis has declared a ‘special emergency’ on gunmen and the parish’s gun culture.

“We will be going after the guns and the gunmen with a renewed vigour, even if it means working around the clock non-stop,” said Ellis, who took command of the St James Police Division in 2017 on the back of a record 245 murders the previous year.

“Just as the Government declared a state of public emergency for COVID-19, we are declaring a state of emergency against these gunmen,” he declared.

The brazenness of the marauding gangsters in St James was crudely revealed in the aftermath of the recently declared SOE when gunmen committed a double murder and a single murder within 24 hours of the announcement, raising concerns about the effectiveness of what was expected to be a ‘shock and awe’ crime-fighting measure.

“We have been arresting many gangsters and seizing record numbers of illegal firearms, but we are still having challenges,” said Ellis. “What we need to do is to start making examples of those we catch with illegal guns…they need to face dreadful consequences, which will deter others who might be tempted to take up the gun.

“We have been planning and strategising and we will be going after them with everything we have got. I am prepared to chase them to the gates of hell, but this madness must stop,” Ellis stated.

JUDICIAL SUPPORT

However, while Ellis is all psyched up and ready to snuff out the debilitating lawlessness, which has been churning out more than 100 murders in the parish every year since 2005, a former top-flight police officer, who is considered an expert in the security field, believes that even with the best of intentions without better support from the judicial system blunting the rampant criminality, it will continue to be a challenge.

“I like the provisions under the new Firearm Act, but I am not pleased with the way it has been rolled out,” said the former lawman, who asked not to be identified. “We need to start putting the cases under the new act before the court, which will see gunmen being sent away for upwards of 20 years, not the old cases, before the new act, for which they are getting 18 months and three years.”

When quizzed about the views expressed by the security expert, Ellis says he has no issue with the judicial system as it relates to sentencing and offering bail to persons on gun-related charges, albeit he would be happy to see gun cases disposed of within six months so that persons are not allowed to be out on bail for extended periods, which sometimes could be for as long as three years.

“It is no secret that in many cases when these men are arrested on gun-related charges and are offered bail, they just go out and pick up their guns and resume where they left off in terms of being a menace to the society,” said Ellis.” If you check the statistics, the gun is the weapon of choice for criminals in St James, so the quicker we get these gangsters off the streets and through the court system, the better it will be for us.”

BEHIND BARS

While supportive of the various human rights provisions, Ellis is adamant that criminals should be behind bars and is not overly concerned about complaints about overcrowding in the prisons.

“I am fully respectful of people’s human rights, and I believe it is important to safeguard those rights, but at the same time, we must protect the society from these men who are willing to pick up a gun, a high-powered rifle, and go out and kill people and destroy families,” said Ellis. “That is not the behaviour of a civil society, and that is why we are declaring an emergency against gunmen and the gun culture here in St James. Let us face it, gunmen have killed more people in St James than COVID.”

In the meantime, Ellis is urging residents to continue to support and cooperate with the police as ultimately it is they who will reap the benefits, with safer communities.

Based on statistics released by the police, last year between January and May, the St James police seized 71 firearms and 1,203 rounds of ammunition. Over the comparative period this year, they have seized 120 firearms and 1,919 rounds of ammunition. Between January and May last year, St James recorded 34 murders, while over the similar period this year, the parish has recorded 69 homicides.