In the wake of a deadly weekend in which bloodthirsty gangsters snuffed out the lives of 25 Jamaicans and left several nursing injuries, the State has pledged to ramp up the fight against crime and rein in the raw brutality.
In St James, where six persons were killed in Norwood and Salt Spring, Senior Superintendent Vernon Ellis, who heads the police division, is calling for a reinstatement of a state of emergency (SOE) or a security initiative with similar powers to help officers get a grip on the violence.
On Monday, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, who is also member of parliament (MP) for St James North Western, visited the area seeking to assure residents that every effort is being made to restore calm and bring the criminals to justice.
“I would like to point out that the security forces are active in the parish,” he said, pointing out that a curfew in Quarry had just been lifted when a double murder happened. “They have had five curfews in Montego Bay since January, and Cambridge, Montego Bay, and Barrett Town are covered by heavy security presence.”
On Saturday, 43-year-old taxi operator Sibestian Reid was travelling on a motorcycle from downtown Montego Bay towards Salt Spring when he was ambushed and killed.
In another incident, 76-year-old retired domestic helper Estriana Wilson and 48-year-old painter Dwight McCallum, both of Quarry, were shot dead when gunmen pulled up in a car as they sat outside Wilson’s gate watching patrons at a birthday party.
In Norwood, a 13-year-old boy and a female were among five shot with three succumbing to their injuries. The deceased persons were identified as 20-year-old Nicardo Daley, unemployed of Montego Hills; 47-year-old Donovan Reid of Norwood; and 50-year-old Aubrey Brown, plumber of Norwood.
In Allman Town, Kingston, five people were shot, three fatally, on Sunday night.
The security minister said that before these incidents, murders were trailing last year’s rate by 18.5 per cent.
“Over this weekend, we have seen 25 killings across Jamaica – two triple and a double, including the triple here in St James, the triple in Allman Town, and the double in the Olympic Gardens area. The police intend to increase activities and we are not deterred by these kinds of brazenness,” said Chang.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, the St James West Central MP, who was on Monday’s tour with Chang, said that new laws were being formulated to help blunt lawlessness.
“The country has been calling on the State to act, and the State will act,” she said. “The level of brazenness and utter disregard for lives and public order cannot be accepted.”
Ellis wants the security forces to be granted more powers to enable them to take down high-profile criminals.
The Government is appealing a 2020 supreme court decision citing constitutional breaches in SOEs.
“At times, we have good evidence against these guys – to include even video recordings showing them committing serious crimes, including murder – but without the special powers offered by the SOE, we are not able to keep them in custody while we are building the case to charge them,” lamented Ellis. “When we are forced to release these guys from custody, they are the same ones going back out there to commit the gruesome murders.”
Turning to the weekend’s bloodletting, he stressed that the gangsters were not just targeting other criminals gangsters but killing innocent people.
“The guys are terrorists. Their aim is to drive fear into entire communities, not just their enemies,” said Ellis.
Ellis, who took command of the St James Division on the back of a record 335 murders in 2017, admits that the success he has enjoyed in bringing down murders to 103 in 2018 – the lowest homicide count in just under two decades – is gratifying but far from what he ultimately hopes to achieve.
“We have done a lot of hard work in arresting criminals and seizing illegal firearms … . We have also done a lot of successful social intervention programmes in communities that were once hostile to the police,” said Ellis, whose attempt to bring murder in the parish last year under 100 failed by 20.
Having benefited greatly from the support of the Jamaica Defence Force over the last three years in crippling the Flanker-based Sparta gang and partially neutralising others as well as arresting numerous high-profile gangsters while seizing some 116 illegal firearms and 1,378 rounds of assorted ammunition, he believes that the military-police presence with extra powers is what is needed to keep the pressure on criminals in the parish.