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State of Emergency Declared in a Second Parish in Jamaica
The Jamaica Senate is expected today to give the green light for the state of emergency (SOE) in the parish of St James to be extended for another three months, after the opposition gave its support to a resolution for the extension in the House of Representatives last night.
In making the case for allowing the SOE to remain in place in the parish that is home to Jamaica’s tourism capital, Montego Bay, until August 2, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the measure has been yielding results.
The SOE was introduced on January 18, and between January 1 and April 30, there were 62 fewer murders than during the corresponding period last year, Holness reported.
Although saying his People’s National Party (PNP) would support the extension this time around, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips criticized the security forces’ strategy of “gathering up young men from poor communities” and gradually processing them, saying it would worsen the relationship between the police and the communities.
However, Holness insisted that detentions under the State of Emergency were not carried out arbitrarily.
“The actions of the police in conducting detention exercises are guided by, first, the preparation of what is called a hotspot mapping of the area; then it is paired with intelligence data on persons in the hotspot areas. The police use existing records of outstanding warrants. Quite a few persons who have been detained, were detained based on the fact that they had existing warrants,” he told his colleagues.
Meantime, St James business and tourism interests say they are in strong support of the extension of the SOE, arguing that “Montego Bay and neighbouring communities have never felt safer”.
Speaking after the House voted to extend the SOE, Mayor of Montego Bay Homer Davis said it was clear that the measure was working, and every effort should be made “to keep a good thing going”.
“We have to keep ostracizing the criminals…We can’t give them any breathing space. We have to speak with one voice as a nation and to let them know that there is no place where they will be safe,” he told the Jamaica Information Service.
He said since the SOE, crime has taken a welcomed nosedive and “the criminals are on the run”.
“If they are planning a ‘waiting out’ strategy, we have to show that our resolve is stronger than theirs. We can’t give them any opportunity to regroup…no opportunity to come back and set up shop,” the Mayor said.
“We have made some tremendous gains, which in no way we can allow to be reversed. That would be nothing short of a tragedy and something I am sure none of us want.”
For his part, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said everything should be done to send the criminals a message that their days of waging terror on the streets are over.
“We have to remain committed. We cannot allow the crime situation to get back out of control,” he said.
Newly elected President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Winston Lawson, also welcomed the extension.
“The Chamber lauds the tremendous work of the joint security forces since the advent of the SOE and recognizes the significant successes in reducing the crime levels,” he said. “We hope the extension time is used to strategize in transitioning away from the SOE.”
‘State of Emergency’ in Jamaica Helping Suppress Gang Activity
A slew of murders and rampant crime in parts of the southeastern parish of St Catherine has prompted authorities to declare a State of Public Emergency in a second parish since the start of the year.
On the heels of the State of Public Emergency in St James – which was declared in January and has been extended until May 2 – Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Sunday declared a similar state of affairs in the St Catherine North Police Division, for 14 days in the first instance.
A joint Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF)/Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) team was deployed to the area yesterday morning to undertake enhanced security measures, in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act.
Police reported last night that 94 people were detained yesterday, 24 of whom were later released. Of the remainder, 20 were processed and kept overnight, while the remaining 50 were being processed with a view to determine whether they will be further detained or released.
In announcing the State of Public Emergency at a press conference, Prime Minister Holness said the move was necessary as crime and violence, particularly murders, had been escalating in the St Catherine North Police Division.
The area has recorded 49 murders since the start of the year, mainly due to gang activity.
“Under these enhanced security measures, the security forces will have extraordinary powers and some (citizens’) rights will be suspended,” Holness said.
He advised that the security forces would have the power to search; detain persons without a warrant; and curtail the operating hours of businesses as well as access to venues.
Additionally, all persons using roads leading into and out of St Catherine North and their vehicles will be subject to search.
“In various areas, there will be joint static and mobile patrols. Persons may also be stopped at various checkpoints,” the Prime Minister further indicated.
However, he assured that the security forces’ use of that authority could not be arbitrary or beyond review.
“The security forces are expected and have been directed to treat citizens with respect and (to) protect the dignity and safety of all Jamaicans,” he emphasized.
Lawmen are reporting that the Enhanced Security Measures – formerly referred to as a State of Emergency – in the northwestern parish of St James is making an impact, particularly when it comes to suppressing gang activity.
According to Deputy Superintendent Ainsley McCarthy, during the period ending February 28, a total of 916 persons were taken into custody.
He said 65 of the detainees were charged for various offences and that 24 of the 916 still remain in detention. Among those detained were 37 juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17, who were processed and later released by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
“Of the 24 persons that we have in custody, we have an interest in a number of them, who are in some way or another related to gangs,” McCarthy said.
“We have applied for 10 detention orders from the Minister (of National Security) to have some of these persons remanded in custody for an extended period of time. We also intend to apply for detention orders for a further seven who are in custody.”
McCarthy said since some of the detainees were taken into custody during the Enhanced Security Measures, there has been a noticeable decrease in gang activities and the “parish has been returning to some sort of normalcy”.
He noted that at the beginning of the operations, there were some opening guidelines for shops, bars, clubs, gas stations and other businesses, but those hours were reviewed and extended and the Jamaica Constabulary Force is “pleased with the results that we are seeing so far”.
The Deputy Superintendent also reported that the issue of overcrowding and other glitches that were experienced in the initial stages of the operations have been resolved.
A State of Emergency in St James took effect on January 18 for an initial period of 14 days, but was subsequently extended to May 2, following a unanimous vote for an extension in the House of Representatives.
Officials subsequently stopped using the term ‘State of Emergency’ and instead referred to ‘Enhanced Security Measures’. National Security Minister Robert Montague explained that was done because the island’s tourist capital, Montego Bay, is located in St James and ‘State of Emergency’ has a negative connotations overseas.