'We must save lives'

Commish gives reason for new SOE

BY BALFORD HENRY &
ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporters

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

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Insisting that “we must save lives”, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson yesterday explained that increased acts of violence and murder, particularly in Westmoreland, led him and Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Rocky Meade to recommend the imposition of states of emergency (SOEs) in that parish, as well as in Hanover and St James.

The anti-crime measure was announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness during an early-morning news conference at Jamaica House, hours after police and soldiers established checkpoints in the three parishes.

The announcement was generally welcomed by people living and operating businesses in the three parishes, while the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) gave it qualified support, saying that whereas it is Government's prerogative to declare SOEs, only lasting results will pronounce on their efficacy and effectiveness.

“The very fact that after more than one year after the SOE in St James there has been this resurgence of criminal activity, underscores the fact that a SOE, without other anti-crime measures that single out and target the producers and perpetrators of violence and bring them to justice, will not provide the level of security that the country deserves,” PNP President Dr Peter Phillips said in a statement.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Dr Wykeham McNeill, the Opposition Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western who had long been appealing for extra security measures in Westmoreland.

“We haven't had the type of response that I would've wanted [such as] the number of security forces personnel down there, the increase in equipment, and the social programmes. It's the Government's responsibility to provide safety to its citizens, so they have to find a way to make that happen. And we as a responsible Opposition are trying to work with them on it… the Government has got to do something. We are in a position where it's out of control, people are in fear, and something had to be done,” McNeill stated.

However, he expressed concern that SOEs appear to be the first line of defence against crime, and that other elements must be incorporated if any crime-fighting measure is to reap success.

“If they don't do other elements such as the social programmes, it's going to come to naught. As I have been saying over the last year, you have to put in the social programmes or nothing that the prime minister does is going to do anything but suppress crime,” McNeill stated.

Since last December, the PNP has been taking heavy flak for voting against a further extension of the SOE in three areas that were being plagued by high crime — St James, St Catherine North Police Division, as well as Kingston Western and St Andrew South.

The Government had gone to Parliament hoping to secure a further three-month extension of the SOE, which was generally accepted as effective in reducing crime, particularly murders.

During yesterday morning's press conference, the police commissioner noted that while the murder rate in St James fell from 183 to 55 per 100,000 during the SOE in 2018, Hanover's and Westmoreland's figures, with no SOE in place, incrementally fell from 87 to 84 and from 101 to 97, respectively, last year.

He noted that while the number of murders in St James during the SOE fell behind both Hanover and Westmoreland in 2018, there has been a 70 per cent increase in murders in St James since this year compared to the same time last year, while Westmoreland has stayed ahead of St James's and Hanover's figures continue to be significant. These figures compare with Kingston at 66 per 100,000 in 2018.

“These figures and the challenge of violence in these spaces caused myself and the chief of defence staff to recommend to the prime minister that we declare a state of emergency in these areas. We must save lives,” Anderson said.

The declaration will last for only 14 days, after which the Government must seek a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament for any extension.

Holness pointed out that he had indicated to the Opposition in Parliament his position of reintroducing the SOEs. He said he had also been in discussions with the Opposition on proposed enhanced powers of the security forces under the anti-gang legislation, which is currently before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, as well as other legal measures that the Government is planning to reduce crime.

Yesterday, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) said that while its membership would have preferred not to have to deal with the negative publicity that an SOE will cause in the tourism market, particularly the USA, Canada, and the UK, they “fully understand that this action has been precipitated by the return of an unacceptable level of shootings and murders in western Jamaica”.

“To that end, the JHTA puts its full support behind the Government in its efforts to bring this unacceptable state of affairs under control,” the association said, while urging the Government and Opposition to “put aside all unnecessary politics and work together so that this initiative, along with other anti-crime measures, will be successful”.


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