Hitting the criminals where it hurts most

Hitting the criminals where it hurts most

Friday, February 24, 2012

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STRENGTHENING the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to include the assets of the facilitators of criminals is indeed a good move that, we hope, will create a significant dent in the operations of lawbreakers.

In fact, the measure is long overdue, as many of the island's more savvy criminals have been ensuring that their ill-gotten gains remain out of reach of law enforcers via the protection afforded by a few people, some of whom are well placed and sufficiently informed in matters of the law.

We are encouraged by the effectiveness of the POCA since it was passed in 2007. We recall that in July 2010 this newspaper reported that the police had, since January 2007, seized more than $700 million (J$92m and almost US$7m) under the Act.

That money was confiscated by different arms of the constabulary — the Fraud Squad, Organised Crime Investigation Division, Trans-National Crime and Narcotics Division — as well as the Customs Department.

In July last year, we also reported that the police had used the POCA to seize more than $5 million in Westmoreland in seven months. So the Act is serving its purpose.

However, where the police have been having some difficulty is with the inherently corrupt and greedy people who are assisting criminals with camouflaging their assets and to evade the long arm of the law.

Those people, as National Security Minister Peter Bunting pointed out on Tuesday, hide or launder the assets of criminals, thus giving these heartless brutes the resources to continue killing and robbing law-abiding Jamaicans, including senior citizens and children.

Hitting both the criminals and those who facilitate them in their pockets will no doubt have a tremendous effect on their operations. However, we hope that our law enforcement agencies will be even more vigorous and receive public co-operation in prosecuting them, for we are convinced that the fear of being caught and punished is a great deterrent to crime.

We therefore urge our legislators to give this intended amendment to the POCA urgent attention, just as we call on them to give swift passage to the Anti-Gang legislation, as both laws, when applied together, will redound to Jamaica's benefit.

But even as we commend Mr Bunting on this push, we must suggest to him that his intention to create an elite multi-agency task force to focus on criminals and their facilitators is really a duplication of what already exists.

We recall that at the launch of Operation Kingfish in October 2004, the then police commissioner, Mr Francis Forbes, had said that Kingfish would exploit the weaknesses of gangs with the aid of high-quality investigators.

Science and technology would lead the way, combined with old-fashioned detective work, Mr Forbes said then.

Operation Kingfish, Mr Forbes added, was the Jamaican authorities' message to criminals that law-abiding Jamaicans would no longer tolerate them.

Since then, Kingfish has proven effective and was merged in 2009 with the Narcotics Division and the Major Investigation Task Force to strengthen the police force's structure and organisation, in an effort to respond more effectively to criminals and the international connections they establish.

Instead of creating another task force, Mr Bunting would do better by increasing the resources available to the National Anti-Corruption Task Force.

The funds already seized under the POCA would be a good place to start.

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