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Crime fear grips Port Royal

Original residents say ‘squatters’ creating sheer hell in historic community

BY KARYL WALKER Editor - Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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IN the 17th Century when Buccaneers ruled the high seas, it was known as the wickedest city on Earth.

But in the 20th and 21st centuries, the sleepy fishing village of Port Royal has built a reputation of being a quiet, quaint and peaceful town which is relatively crime-free.

Those decades of solitude and freedom from crime is about to be shattered some residents fear, due to a mass migration of squatters from inner-city communities in Kingston, to Port Royal.

Just last week one man was shot in the face and the motor vehicle belonging to Lloyd Gordon, who heads the Port Royal Brotherhood, was stolen.

In the past, the police in Port Royal mainly dealt with domestic disputes, possession of marijuana and other minor crimes. The jail house at the station was used mainly to house prisoners from other areas where the jails were bursting at the seams.

According to People's National Party councillor for the community, Lorraine Dobson, the squatters are creating nervous nights for the original inhabitants of the small town and said if something is not done about the problem, the economy of the town could crumble, as many people visit Port Royal to consume its world-famous seafood without fear of being targeted by criminals.

"I have been aware that there is a growing migration problem in terms of squatting. In addition to that, there are also persons who are involved in the lotto scam," Dobson said.

The squatters are reportedly refugees who have fled from a war-torn section of West Kingston, Rockfort, Mountain View Avenue, Southside and other crime-infested communities in the Corporate Area.

Dobson said that the legitimate residents of Port Royal are upset that the squatter community has been growing at such a rate that soon they may become the minority.

"If you have these people coming, then other things will follow. The mood of the residents is not good. They want something to be done now. But I am telling them that we have to take hold of our community with the assistance of the police. If we encourage them to stay there, if we don't push them out, what can the police do?" Dobson said.

However, while the theft of the motor vehicle is being probed thoroughly, the police said that their early investigations suggest that the shooting may not be connected to any person living in the squatter community.

The police reported that two gunmen attacked a visitor who had come to the island to attend a funeral and shot him in the face. Luckily, the victim did not succumb to the wound.

The Jamaica Observer spoke with the clearly shaken victim who said that he was not prepared to comment, as an intensive probe was underway.

The bullet entered just below his left chin and exited on the other side of his face.

A huge wound was seen on the right side of his face where the bullet exited and a smaller one at the point of entry.

"A feel a little pain," was all the man said.

The Sunday Observer visited the town last week and saw evidence of a growing squatter community at three points in the town which sits on the eastern edge of the Kingston Harbour.

The squatters have built shanty houses in an area formerly called Morgan's Line but which has been dubbed 'Back A Wall' or 'Mitchelin' by the residents. There are also squatter communities in the old Maritime Training Centre and at a section of the beach where Lime Cay can be seen with the naked eye.

The police have confirmed that the growing squatter community in the historic town is threatening to disrupt the peace.

Sub-officer in charge of the Port Royal Police Station, Sergeant Carol Fletcher said that the police are aware of the problem but residents are unwilling to speak out.

"We have increased our presence in the community but the residents need to speak up. The night when the car was stolen there were five strange men moving about the community. We did not hear about that until after the car was stolen," Fletcher said.

The residents were summoned to a community meeting to address their concerns by Dobson last Sunday. Assistant Commissioner in charge of Area Four and Community Safety and Support Officer Inspector Tammelee Chambers were also invited to the meeting and were given an earful by the concerned residents.

"The police have pledged to increase their presence but we don't want them to just promise, as we have been asking for more police presence for a while now and we never get the help so I hope that now that things coming to greater light it will be sustained," one resident said.

But Fletcher said that while the residents were willing to speak out when a member of the police high command came to meet with them, they would not speak to the cops whom they had to interact with on a daily basis.

"They need to show more confidence in the police who work in their community," said Fletcher, who has recently been assigned to Port Royal.

One resident who identified himself as Kenneth Goldson said that the younger generation of residents were sometimes to blame as they seemed to be unworried about giving safe haven to some of the squatters.

"Them invite in some people who they don't even know them name or nothing about them background. They have no allegiance or sense of history about the importance of Port Royal to Jamaica and by extension the world," Goldson said.

Goldson complained that since the squatter community began to expand, there have been more incidents of property crimes.

"More house get broke into. Them even thief the fisherman igloo. Most people in Port Royal live off fishing one way or another so we don't harass fisherman," he said.

Dobson concurred that the younger generation of Port Royal citizens had not been holding up to the standards of their ancestors.

"When we were growing up we were socialised differently. We never had that growing population. We were more sceptic of strangers. We were more aware of our surroundings. This younger generation accept them with open arms," she said.

The present population of Port Royal is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000 with almost 25 per cent belonging to the squatter community, Fletcher said.

The concerned residents said that when the ferry was the only means of public transportation to and from Port Royal, strangers could be more easily monitored, but since the discontinuation of the ferry service and the introduction of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus service, it has become a free-for-all.

"In the morning when the first bus comes you wonder where so much people come from. In the night the last bus come and is a whole heap of people who we don't know come off. This is not the Port Royal we want. We have started to patrol the streets at night," Goldson said.

The owner of the motor vehicle that was stolen said the good name of the community was being sullied by elements within, who saw nothing wrong with entertaining unscrupulous strangers.

"It is because of the harbouring of too much unscrupulous strangers. They provide some of them with safe haven. My car was stolen about 3:00 Sunday morning when a number of people were at a club partying. We could sleep with our doors open but that is now a thing of the past," he said.

The squatters are also posing a serious environmental threat as they have been cutting down sea grape trees and mangroves to build their homes.

Mangroves and sea grape trees are natural storm surge barriers which protect from heavy waves which are a feature of hurricanes.

Traditionally residents of Port Royal have always stayed put, despite warnings from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) for the residents to relocate to shelters.

"The situation make it worse as we not leaving our place to the thieves and come back to an empty house. It not going to work," one resident said.

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