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OPPOSITION WELCOMES CRIME DROP, SUGGESTS CAUTION AND WANTS MORE RESOURCES FOR THE POLICE

Release Date: 
Saturday, January 17, 2015 - 10:15

I have been following recent developments, including the figures provided by the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) periodic crime review reflecting a reduction in both murders and serious crimes for the past year, as well as the swagger with which the Minister of National Security has responded to them.

On behalf of the Opposition, I too welcome the decline recorded in these figures, and the fact that the police have finally been able to harness the runaway trend in these crimes, especially murders, recorded in the latter part of 2013 which had threatened to derail the success that was being achieved since 2010.

However, the situation is definitely not a cause for too much celebration by the Minister, considering that he had inherited a downward trend in 2012, and the fact that the figures were significantly inflated in mid 2013 by a sudden spike in murders which continued to the end of the year.

I am concerned that the Minister may once again find himself in a position where he has become so absorbed in the celebration, as he did last year, and lose focus on the fact that he is really continuing a process which began prior to his appointment, and still is far from complete.

I raise this issue because I realize that while the Minister is gloating, the latest figures show that approximately 21 murders occurred in the first six days of 2015, reigniting fears of another significant spike in murders.

However, I am using this opportunity to congratulate the security forces on the tremendous job they are doing, despite the extreme poor working conditions in which they operate, and the consistent failure of the Government to increase the budget of the Ministry of National Security significantly enough to provide them with the resources to make the best use of legislation passed over the past few years.

In addition to recognizing the leadership of the Minister of National Security, we must also pay tribute to the former Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington, for laying the foundation for this recovery, and the new Commissioner, Dr. Carl Williams, for his efforts to continue the process.

The Opposition has constantly given full support to the legislative measures, because we recognize that for Jamaica to successfully complete its current Extended Fund Facility (EFF) agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and to achieve the levels of growth that will help us to reduce our indebtedness and improve production and job creation, we must significantly reduce the level of crime and violence in the society. However, we recognize that there is a lot more than policing that is needed to sustain any success that is achieved.

No investor, whether foreign or local, is encouraged to make the kind of investments that we need to achieve these economic targets, when they are so vulnerable to significant levels of extortion and intimidation, as is occurring in the country. Extortion continues to be a major source of income for criminal gangs, especially in urban centres like Kingston, St. Andrew, Spanish Town and Montego Bay, and we must choke off this supply if we are to remove their stranglehold on urban communities.

The claims of significant criminal pressures on the business sector have now been fully exposed by the police finding evidence of the levels to which this kind of harassment has grown, by focusing on the Chinese business community. However, we must focus on the effect on the Jamaican business community, as well, especially the micro, small, medium-sized businesses whose survival is being hampered by extortion, and also explore the involvement of the police in these activities.

We are aware that many of these investors are reluctant to cooperate with the police, because they fear retribution from the gangsters. We are also aware that many Jamaicans continue to be afraid to give information to the police on crimes, because they too fear retribution. I think that it is time that the JCF pay special attention to this phenomenon, because without the survival of these businesses we cannot increase employment and the youths will be more easily lured into crime.

We must also pay more attention to issue of the hundreds of informal settlements, which are more often and not the domain of the “dons” and their gangs, and offer the little assistance to the security forces because of bad terrain, the lack of infrastructure. The fact is that in the circumstances the residents have become forced to the rule of the lawless because of the lack of security patrols.

Although I recognize the value of a programme like the Minister’s ‘Unite for Change’ initiative, in seeking to reduce the tensions between the residents of these communities and the security forces, the fact is that it is nothing more than a plaster which will do nothing to heal the wounds that exist, and is only effective until the next flare-up in violence is ignited.

Programmes like the Community Security and Justice Programme (CSPJ), I believe, are the kind of initiatives on which we should focus, because it not only seeks to teach the youths which are recruited discipline and a skill, but it also provides them with a salary which encourages and contributes to their economic development.

I implore the Minister to ensure that this programme does not become tainted by political discrimination, and to concentrate more funds on expanding it across the informal settlements and inner city communities, to encourage more of our young people to become less dependent of crime.

In relation to the figures reported in the JCF’s periodic crime review up to the end of December, 2014, I noticed that while there is a substantial decline in gang related murders, there is also a significant surge in non-gang related murders. I believe that the Minister must seek to find out what is the cause of that new development.
We need to know whether this means that our focus on criminal gangs is causing them to break up into smaller units and individuals, which are less easy to be detected as a way of getting around our anti-gang measures.

The figures for 2014 show a drop in murders of approximately 16 percent and a decrease in shootings of approximately 12 percent, compared to 2013. However, while gang related murders fell from approximately 78 percent to approximately 60 percent of the total, murders which are recorded as criminal but not gang related rose from approximately 15 percent last year to 32.6 percent this year. What does this mean?

We also need to recognize that while gang related murders fell to as low as 27.7 percent in 2010, they rose to 66.7 percent of murders in 2012 and 77.9 percent of murders in 2013. This shows how flexible this situation can become.

The JCF’s periodic crime review shows that, for example, in St. Catherine (North and South), where the murder figure fell from 186 in 2013 to 129 last year, non-gang related murders (excluding domestic and mob killings) rose from 25 to 66. In St. Andrew North, where gang related murders fell from 30 to 14, the non-gang related murders went up 400 percent, from four to 16. In St. James where gang related murders fell to 91 from 146 in 2013, non-gang related murders committed by criminal gunmen increased from 16 to 51.

We need to find out what is the cause of the fluctuations. These are serious questions that we must answer, if we are to achieve sustainable levels of tolerance, which can offer reassurance to our citizens and show that we are in control of the situation, which is certainly not the case when we are still recording more than 1,000 murders per year.

We must also look at the fact that murders in which guns are used fell by only 2.8 percent which means that when these major crimes do occur, they are being committed by persons with illegal guns, whether or not they are gang members.

I am certainly relieved that we were able to significantly reduce the number of police personnel killed to two last year, and that the number of children killed declined from 49 in 2013 to 45 in 2014, although the figure is still more than the 43 children killed in 2012.But, I am concerned that more than 61 percent of the robberies reported involved the use of the gun, which is further example of the danger to the society of the availability of illegal guns to criminals.

I am specifically very concerned about the increase in murders in Eastern Kingston, the only area in the Kingston Metropolitan Area which showed an increase in murders – from 39 to 49- as well as serious crimes, in the context of the constant complaints from the residents about gunmen extorting them, including forcing them to pay rent for their own homes: A new phenomenon which we cannot allow to spread.

I welcome the decrease in murders in Western Kingston, which now seems to be reverting to the trend which started in 2010. However, I am concerned about the increases in Hanover, St. Ann and the Minister’s own parish of Manchester (constituency) where murders increased from 35 to 41. This rise in murders in rural parishes has to be checked.

Finally, I must remind the minister that there are a number of promises which he has made since coming to office which have not been fulfilled. These include: the tabling of the DNA Bill in the House of Representatives; the provision of body cameras for the police, which was announced with much fanfare; the repair of some 35-40 percent of the vehicles used by the police, which have been parked or are unreliable; the shortage of uniforms for some members of the JCF; shortage of bullet-proof vests; the lack of a proper and effective communications system for quick responses to calls from the public; and the state of disrepair of so many police stations, including the lock-ups for suspects.

I believe that in recognizing the value of reducing the state of crime and violence in the society to achieve the elusive growth that we seek, the government must allocated additional resources in the 2015/16 budget to allow the security forces to protect the society from criminals, as well as to expand the social intervention programmes which I have always insisted are a primary requirement in crime fighting.

With all that is being said, the fear of crime as highlighted by the surveys and polls, must be our primary concern at this point.

Our concerns must not only be limited to focusing on apprehending and prosecuting the criminals, but also to assisting the victims, especially those who are willing to cooperate with the police. There is a serious need to review the witness protection programme, and make it more appealing to the victims and witnesses.

I also urge the members of the security forces to continue their valiant efforts to contain the problem, despite the many challenges that they face, and implore the public to give them their full support and not subject themselves to the intimidation of the criminals.

 

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