SOE defence

Police chief, JDF boss say drop in murders justifies security measure

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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The heads of the constabulary and military yesterday appeared before a parliamentary committee with data to defend the maintenance of states of public emergency in three areas across the island, saying that the measure — the latest of which was announced on Sunday this week — is responsible for the decline in murders since January.

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson told the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament that since the declaration of the first state of emergency (SOE) in St James about 146 fewer people have been killed.

“None of the people killed is a number to us,” General Anderson stated. “Every one of them shot to pieces, a police officer interfaces with that. So it has a reality to us that is very stark. That kind of shift for us, this fewer number of people killed or shot, is the greatest measure that we have; it means that my investigators can investigate something properly; it means scenes of crime people are going to less scenes to process dead bodies; it means that next year I won't have reprisals for those murders that would have taken place this year. So these are the quantitative measures that are the most prominent for us in the scheme of things.”

The police commissioner argued that Jamaica has been in a crisis of violence for decades, and that the SOE has become a necessary tool.

“Perhaps we have to do things a little differently, try and see how we can address the problem… the size force that you would need to deal with these levels of violence through normal policing processes are not feasible, so we have to have a method that reduces the input,” he stated.

He said the current murder clear-up rate of 46 per cent means that cases can be dealt with properly for better outcomes. “You're talking about a clear-up rate of over 700 murders per year; when you compare it to other places they clear up a fraction of the clear-up that the JCF does,” he said.

The police commissioner noted also that there are components of violence that affect entire communities, which are not captured in the national statistics.

“When persons, at 2:00 am, open up an AK47 or M16, old people, kids, everybody get on the floor… and you sit and watch for the remainder of the night. These kids are going to school, having woken up at two o'clock and not going back to sleep. This is reality, and these things are not captured in any statistics,” he told the committee.

General Anderson stressed that residents now have a sense of security and people are more comfortable giving information to the security forces as they become optimistic about change.

General Anderson and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Rocky Meade, along with permanent secretary in the National Security Ministry Diane McIntosh had appeared before the committee to answer questions about the effectiveness of the SOEs and, to a lesser extent, the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO), which are now in effect in Mount Salem, St James and Denham Town in West Kingston.

On Sunday this week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared an SOE for parts of St Andrew South, Kingston Central, and the majority of Kingston Western, sparking renewed calls from the Parliamentary Opposition for hard evidence to support the need for a continuation of the security measure, which is already in place in St James and St Catherine North.

Last month, the police released data showing that nationally, major crimes — categorised as murder, shooting, rape, and aggravated assault — have dropped by just under 17 per cent between January 1 and August 11, compared to the same period last year.

In relation to St James, the figures show that for the period January 1 to August 11, there were 60 murders in the parish, compared to 188 over the same period last year — a decrease of 68.1 per cent. Shootings were also down to 61, compared to 140 last year, a 56.4 per cent reduction.

Yesterday, in an obvious response to calls by the Opposition to give a timeline for an end to the SOE, Major General Meade cautioned that there was danger in doing that.

“We have made tremendous progress in a matter of months… the danger I would suggest with trying to measure normality by time is that the persons who are perpetuating crime and violence are also listening,” he said, adding that if those individuals get a timeline from the authorities for a wrapping-up of the SOE, “they will just wait until that time has passed and get back to what is business as usual for them, but may not be normal for citizens of Jamaica”.

He said that certain situations in some societies may require a week to get back to normal, while there are other situations that may take decades to correct.

“Right now, what we are doing with the short-term response is, we are removing some of their capacity for violence and their opportunity for violence,” he stated, adding that the Jamaica Defence Force has, as part of its medium- and long-term plan, strategies to remove the intent for violence.

Documents submitted to the committee containing data such as the number of searches carried out by the security forces under the SOE were not disseminated to the media at the meeting, as they were said to be confidential.

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