Fri | Sep 24, 2021

No Cupid for criminals - Ellington wants tougher laws to end murderous love affair with guns

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2021 | 12:25 AM
Owen Ellington, former commissioner of police.
Owen Ellington, former commissioner of police.

Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington wants the new Firearms Act to impose lengthy sentences for the illegal importation and possession of guns to break up the love affair criminals have with such weapons, which are reportedly used in 80 per cent of the island’s homicides.

Speaking during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week, Ellington said that there is nothing in the current Firearms Act which makes importation an offence.

“… We have had incidents where we hold on to people with over 30 firearms, wet foot coming off the seas, but there is no offence in our Firearms Act for illegal importation of firearms,” Ellington told the forum, a revelation which stunned participants.

While individuals are charged for the illegal possession of firearms, Ellington wants illegal importation added as an offence.

The “wet foot, dry foot” policy was established in the 1990s by United States President Bill Clinton and it allowed Cuban nationals intercepted at sea to enter the US without a visa and become permanent residents.

“If you could charge for the illegal importation of weapons and they could get a hefty prison time for that, it would be a deterrent. It’s not foreigners who are buying guns and sending them here. It’s Jamaicans who have their connection in the marketplace. These are the Jamaican criminal gangs who are buying guns and shipping them here to kill us off,” he charged.

The guns-for-drugs trade between Haiti and Jamaica for years added hundreds of high-powered weaponry to the crime trade, oftentimes bettering the firepower of the security forces.

According to Ellington, 85 per cent of the guns in Jamaica come from “our neighbours to the North and are bought by Jamaicans in the diaspora”.

CONTINUOUS FUEL

The guns pour continuous fuel on the island’s blood heap, reaching land through scores of official and unofficial entry points.

“So how do you deal with it? You destroy the market. When you arrest people, sometimes they have guns that are linked to 10, 15 murders. The courts don’t want to hear this. When a man goes to court and pleads guilty on illegal possession of firearm and that firearm is linked to other crimes, that, I think, should be taken into consideration for sentencing,” Ellington suggested.

He said the full weight of the law should come down on such individuals – “unless the person is willing to turn a prosecution witness and tell the police where he got the gun, was he on these crimes scenes, and if he is involved in them”.

Continued Ellington: “But we deal with criminal offenders on a one-to-one basis. This man committed this crime, he is the man before the courts, and what you are telling me is not what he is charged for. And that’s how we do it. We don’t go after groups. We don’t go after the criminal organisations. We don’t use mandatory minimum. We don’t threaten people with the rest of their lives in prison and say to them, you can have your sentences significantly reduced if you give up all the members of your gang and if you tell us where you got the guns or drugs,” he argued.

Last week, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said that a new Firearms Act was among top priorities on the Government’s current legislative agenda.

Turning to the issue of drugs, Ellington said it was laughable that a courier caught with cocaine in his or her stomach could plead not guilty before a magistrate and is offered bail because they are innocent until proven guilty. A conviction could see them walk away with only a fine.

“In other countries, they go straight to prison. So they know that we are soft on criminals. They know that we have created a criminal free space here. They know that we are not serious about reducing crime, and that is why our numbers are going up and will continue to go up unless there is a pushback from the State,” the former commissioner said.

Many victims of crimes have likened the sentences of the perpetrators as “pickney lunch time”, clearly suggesting that the sentences do not match the crimes.

The police have also complained of having their hands tied under the current Disaster Risk Management Act covering the COVID-19-triggered nightly curfews. Individuals must be warned for arrest even if there are deliberate breaches.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com