MAY PEN, Clarendon — Police in Clarendon are assuring residents that safety and security are improving and that with the help of the public they will continue relentless anti-crime efforts to make this mid-island parish even safer.
The assurance comes against the backdrop of a recent announcement that some 834 houses are expected to go on the market in Phase III of the Longville Park housing scheme, located in South East Clarendon, in another 16 months.
The third phase of this housing development is expected to attract new residents to Clarendon but there is a fear that the parish’s reputation as a major crime hotspot could prevent that.
However, head of the Clarendon Police Division, Senior Superintendent Michael Bailey, says ‘Clarendonians” need not worry.
“(The parish) is much safer than it used to be seven years ago,” Bailey told journalists at a recent press briefing. “We are now recording fewer murders than we used to and we are thankful for that,” he added.
“Currently, we are 10 per cent above what we would like to have in overall crime, but we believe that we are doing a good job here in Clarendon. There has been significant improvement in the parish over the last year or so and the public can attest to it.
“Business is thriving and we really want to thank the public for their support. We intend to make Clarendon as safe as possible for everyone,” he said.
Bailey, the interim replacement for the late Clarendon police chief, SSP Dathan Henry, said the immediate aim was to get the murder toll “down to about 60” a year and currently the target appeared to be within reach.
There were 77 murders in Clarendon last year, down from 136 in 2010, which, according to Bailey, represents the biggest improvement since 1994.
“Henry and all members of the division focused their attention on gangs, depriving criminals of the freedom to operate and they worked steadfastly to a predetermined policing plan,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was recently quoted as saying.
Bailey said the Clarendon police were “determined” to make the parish “as safe as possible… We know there will be challenges, but with continuous help from the public we can make it happen”.
Regarding the distrust some Jamaicans have for the police, Bailey said: “I am aware that corruption is everywhere, but I do believe that if we want to reduce crime you must have at least one person in the force that you can trust. We are going around the parish to have community meetings and we will be giving out our numbers, so they can call, text or even write a note. They don’t have to make themselves known; all we need is the information.”
Bailey told journalists that in the last four weeks the Clarendon police had seized six illegal firearms and over 1,000 offensive weapons, $129,800 in cash from suspected extortionists, and 15 gallons of “illegal” rum.
He claimed the police had also broken up a major carstealing ring operating between Clarendon and Kingston, and what appeared to be major ganja operation in the parish.
“We have made a number of arrests in relation to these finds,” the senior cop said. “All of this was accomplished in a joint operation with the Jamaica Defence Force and we want to assure the public that these operations will continue,” he added.
Despite the recent decline in crime, Bailey said there were issues that posed a serious threat to effective policing. He was particularly concerned with the steady migration of criminals from other parts of the country to the parish.
“We do have a problem with criminals using the parish as a gateway to get to other parishes,” Bailey said, “and we also have reason to believe that some of these criminals have a local link — persons who are accommodating them. However, I must say we have a 24-hour patrol system and it is just a matter of time before we find them.”
A low conviction rate and a difficulty in making serious breakthrough in cases involving sexual offences are some of the other pressing issues that continue to plague the Clarendon police.
“We are trying to improve on our conviction rate,” Bailey said. “We are trying to as best as possible to monitor our witnesses (because they) are coming forward, but as it relates to the Identification Parade, we still have a problem. However, the important thing right now is that people are coming forward with information on gang members and it is because we have been making some convictions. One man was recently given life for murder and will not be eligible for parole for about another 20 years.”
Regarding sexual offences, Bailey urged public education to deal with issues such as incest. “We need serious public education because some of the parents themselves were not properly taught,” he said.
“There are parents who just refuse to report abuse to the police, but they should also be aware that they can also be charged,” added Detective Corporal Meleta Simms, who is assigned to the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.