Sat | Nov 27, 2021

Murders outpacing COVID-19 deaths in the west

Published:Saturday | March 20, 2021 | 12:07 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor
Superintendent Vernon Ellis
Superintendent Vernon Ellis
Sharon Beeput.
Sharon Beeput.
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WESTERN BUREAU:

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the news out of western Jamaica, based on the latest crime statistics released by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) for the period January 1 to March 17, murders are currently outpacing deaths spawned by the coronavirus.

Since the start of the year, the region has recorded 67 murders – St James (38), Westmoreland (15), Hanover (11), and Trelawny (three), while 64 have died from the coronavirus – St James 24, Trelawny 14, Westmoreland nine and Hanover seven.

The region’s current murder statistics represent a 24 per cent hike over the comparative period last year. In fact, except for Trelawny, with a 50 per cent reduction, and Westmoreland, which had an identical 15; the increase is somewhat scary with St James registering a 138 per cent increase, and Hanover seeing an 83 per cent jump.

The full breakdown over the comparative periods shows, St James up from 16 murders in 2020 to 38 this year; Hanover up from six to 11, Westmoreland the identical 15, and Trelawny moving down from six to three. Interestingly, the three Trelawny murders were committed by persons from outside the parish.

In Hanover, which once had the enviable distinction of being the nation’s safest parish, commanding officer Sharon Beeput said her mission is to turn around statistics going forward.

“It is 11 murders too much, but we are not about to panic. Our aim is put in the work that is needed to keep our numbers down,” said Beeput, the only female commanding officer in the west. “We did fairly well in 2020 and our goal is to do even better this year. Based on some of our recent successes, we have every confidence that our mission will be accomplished.”

While St James has had more than 50 per cent of the murders committed in the region, following a rough start to the year when there was a flare-up of gang violence in several volatile communities, things have settled down somewhat and with the statistics in the period under review showing a reduction in shootings – a drop from 27 to 25, the parish’s commander, Superintendent Vernon Ellis, is banking on the recently rolled out multi-agency task force to blunt the lawlessness.

MULTI-AGENCY APPROACH

“We believe a multi-agency approach, which is being driven by research and data, is going to make the difference,” Ellis told The Gleaner recently. “We are targeting crime across the board and at every level and we believe, once we can get the public to buy into what we are doing, we will get the results we want. We have arrested several most wanted men since the start of the year and we are seizing unprecedented number of illegal firearms.”

While Ellis remains cautiously optimistic that better days are ahead, a top security expert in the western region is still not convinced that the police can drive down murders, shootings, and robberies until a way is found to stem the constant flow of illegal firearms into the western region.

“The police have seized upwards of 1,000 firearms in recent years and during that same period, they have probably sent more gangsters to their graves than we now have walking around today, but we are still having murders, even when we had back-to-back SOEs (state of emergencies), we were still seeing numerous murders,” the security expert said. “Unless we find a way to stop the guns from coming in, it will continue to be a case of giving the police a straw basket to carry water.”

While the statistics are showing that robbery has fallen by 16 per cent across the region over the comparative period last year, falling from 37 to 31, business operators across the region, especially in Westmoreland, where their 17 documented robberies are more than the combined total of the other three parishes, there is much anxiety in the business community.

“Our situation is far from comforting … when you hear that multiple robbers are walking into business places in Negril and robbing the place and then walking out with their CCTV recorder, it tells you that these guys are brazen and ready for anything,” a business operator told The Gleaner yesterday.

“We need to flood the place with JamaicaEye cameras so the police will have real-time information on robberies, which will increase their chances of catching the robbers.