SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Assistant Commissioner of Police Derrick Cochrane, who heads the Police Area Three (St Elizabeth, Manchester and Clarendon) says the Neighbourhood Watch programme is key to fighting crime across Jamaica.
"The Neighborhood Watch concept is more relevant now than when it was first introduced in Jamaica 25 years ago," Cochrane told the annual general meeting of the St Elizabeth Lay Magistrates Association at the Beadle Hall, Santa Cruz on Thursday.
Claiming that "vicious" and "dog-hearted" criminals were violating the rights of Jamaicans all across the land, Cochrane said the time had come for the nation to be "one big neighbourhood watch" working in partnership with the police.
The assistant commissioner, who was speaking against the backdrop of the recent rape of five females including an eight-year-old from a single home in Irwin, St James, and rising fear in normally sedate St Elizabeth and Manchester because of a hike in gun crimes, reminded lay magistrates that the law gave the power to private citizens to make arrests.
This power, he suggested, was an important element in the effort to build community anti-crime programmes. However, he cautioned against vigilante justice. Rather, he said, citizens should work in tandem with the police.
"You must be vigilant against criminal activities in your communities without being vigilantes," Cochrane said.
"If you see something, you need to say something to the police (and) if you have to arrest in your capacity as private citizens, do so and call the police," he added.
Cochrane argued that Jamaica was "at a crossroads where crime and criminality is concerned... evil persists when good men stand by and do nothing. If we the people of Jamaica who are in the majority are to take back Jamaica from these criminals, we need to do something. The Neighbourhood Watch is a good vehicle by which to do so."
While claiming that there was usually little or no crime in communities with functioning neighbourhood watch groups, Cochrane noted that usually such groups were only formed "out of some traumatic criminal and anti-social experiences..."
It was a matter of regret, he later told journalists, that such groups often waned and even died once the short-term effect of reduced crime in the community was achieved.
Cochrane told journalists that particularly in St Elizabeth and Manchester, many of those being held by police for gun crimes originated elsewhere.
"What it shows is the migratory nature of criminals. They continue to move around. If we are going to really take back this country, citizens have to be alert and not give criminals security by giving them solace in their communities..." he said.