BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
REELING from the recent rash of reports of vicious crimes, including some against the most vulnerable in society, Jamaicans across the country seem to be growing more afraid.
Some have issued a desperate call for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, National Security Minister Peter Bunting, and Police Commissioner Owen Ellington to intensify measures to deal with the crime monster gripping the country and which they believe has tightened its hold in recent weeks.
Official police figures up to the end of July point to a decrease in major crimes, but many Jamaicans say they are not consoled, particularly because of what appears to be an increase in violent rapes, murders, extortion, and vigilante justice in recent weeks.
Nearing the end of July, Ellington declared that the country's national security situation had continued to improve, with major crimes falling by 13.3 per cent between January and July 21, compared to the corresponding period in 2011.
He attributed the downward trend to increases in the quality and number of operations, allied with effective intelligence and the commitment of police personnel to the cause. However, Ellington at that time acknowledged that the number of murders had moved past the figure for the corresponding period in 2011.
"So while murders in 2012 are 16 or 2.3 per cent above 2011, there is an overall decline of 86 or seven per cent in serious violent crimes of murder and shooting in 2012 compared to 2011," Ellington argued.
Nearly a month later, on August 13, the Jamaica Constabulary Force reported that the murder toll had moved to 643 reported cases, 13 more than the 630 cases reported between January and the end of July 2011.
The 'bloodiest' months on record up to that time, according to police statistics, are May, which registered 120 murders; January with 108; February, which saw 96; and June, 88. These are followed by July, which saw 87 murders; March with 73; and April, 71, most of which were gang-related.
According to the police, St James continues to be the most challenging division in terms of violent crimes, particularly shootings and murders. The Police Statistics and Data Management Unit reported 86 murders in St James between January 1, 2012 and July 21, 2012.
The next highest was the feared St Catherine North Division, which had 70 reported murders, followed by St Catherine South with 50 murders.
Opposition Spokesperson on National Security and Justice Delroy Chuck expressed shock at the seeming upsurge in crime, and what he described as the depravity associated with recent criminal acts, particularly the rape of three girls and two women from one family in St James.
Two weeks ago the Opposition spokesman echoed calls for the introduction of the much-touted anti-gang legislation, and questioned why the minister of national security and the minister of justice had failed to ensure that the document is taken to Parliament.
Chuck urged the Government to get a handle on the crime monster immediately as the gains made over the years were being eroded.
He said there is increasing lawlessness within the society and citizens are losing confidence in the system's ability to protect them.
The severity of the situation has again caught the attention of the United States Government.
"Organised crime and other criminal elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most of the criminal activity is gang-related. The police are only able to make arrests in 44 per cent of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in five per cent of the cases. This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, leading to vigilantism, which only exacerbates the cycle of violence. Based on their past experiences, most civilians fear that, at best, the authorities cannot protect them from organised criminal elements and, at worst, are colluding with criminals, all of which leads citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimonies," read a section of the 2012 Crime and Safety Report report on Jamaica, published in March by the US State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
On Friday, the Jamaica Observer team roved the streets of Montego Bay, downtown Kingston, Half-Way-Tree, sections of Clarendon and Manchester to solicit views on the crime problem and how safe citizens feel.
While a few persons said they were not fearful, the majority of individuals who spoke with our reporters indicated that they were overwhelmed by fear, and highlighted the need for the Government to do more to combat crime.
Toni-Ann Jackson, a student from Montego Bay said: "I am scared sometimes, especially if I am coming from school late in the evenings, because men are going around and raping children."
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Davon Crump told the Sunday Observer: "We have noticed that people are cautious, especially small business owners who don't have the finances to employ adequate security. There are people in the remote areas who are closing their businesses earlier than normal because they are cautious and they are worried about the crimes that they are seeing. So, yes, the crime is affecting us in a negative way".
For young business operator Alecia, the situation is terrible, as for her, Jamaica is no longer a safe place. "You don't si what a gwaan, every day something a gwaan; the young a get rape, the old a get rape. You have to walk and a watch every move you mek. Jamaica is no longer safe, in fact, it never safe from morning," she said as she stood inside her business place in Half-Way-Tree.
Similar sentiments were expressed by young university student, Danielle, who disclosed that she has had her own brushes with criminals.
"Based on what has been happening for the last couple of weeks I don't feel safe. As a university student, I have late classes and I am scared going home at nights, because I don't know what can happen. I have had instances where persons have actually trailed me," she said as she entered a mall in the Half-Way-Tree area.
For one member of the security team stationed at the Half- Way-Tree Transportation Centre, the situation has got out of control.
"Me not happy with the things that going on, and the police dem not doing anything about it," said the female security officer who identified herself as a member of the Municipal Police Corps.
And, for 65-year-old Hellshire resident, James, who was spotted in the vicinity of the Supreme Court building in downtown Kingston, something must be done urgently to deal with the problem.
"For the last ten years I don't leave my house after six o'clock; too many thugs," he said, adding that he tries hard to get home by 2:00pm each day so that he is not get caught out on the streets after dark.
Albert Ferguson, the president of the Area One Police Youth Club in St James told the Sunday Observer said he was interested in finding out the cause of the criminal activities, especially in St James.
"I am not scared of the crime. I am only concerned that they are happening so fast. Right now I am trying to find out what is the root cause. I don't known if the police have their hands on it and the causes, and I don't know if we can comfortably say the cause of crime is as a result of the lottery scam. The lottery scam has watered down somewhat and yet the crime continues," he argued.
"I feel scared, especially since they are raping a lot of women now. I would really like the police to do a better job so that crime can be brought under control in St James," said Latoya Clarke of Norwood in that parish.
Speaking on behalf of the hundreds of members of the association of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), President Rosalea Hamilton said she was distressed by the levels of crime affecting the country, but argued that her members have mixed views on how the situation should be handled.
"The rape of women is particularly concerning for women, not just women in business. We are really being sickened by what has happened," said Hamilton. She added that the association's members were being affected by a range of criminal activities, with some reporting that their businesses have been rocked by the deaths of employees, or their relatives.
"When the tragedies take place they affect employees and, therefore, employee morale as well as productivity goes down. We have had situations where the sole proprietor gets killed, and that, on many occasions, leads to the end of the business and the dislocation of employees," she told the Sunday Observer.
For Carol Narcisse, the executive director of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, crime in Jamaica continues to be intolerably high. However, the civil society activist is adamant that the situation does not require a new crime plan.
She said that her organisation believes the country has already demonstrated that it has the capacity to deal with the problem, and has called on the Simpson Miller Administration to explain why it has not resorted to these tried and tested strategies.
"We know we have the capacity to deal with serious crimes and that we demonstrated in the aftermath of the Tivoli Gardens incursion," said Narcisse, pointing to the many security operations carried out across the country by police/military personnel. The sustained operations led to a sharp reduction in all crimes. She added that the work of the security forces led them to gather information on persons of interest, many of whom were pursued or invited to turn themselves in with their lawyers to respond to queries from investigators.
She added that her organisation is concerned that enough hasn't been done to improve the investigative and forensic capacity of the local police. In addition, she said she is not satisfied with the level of social intervention that has taken place, and blamed this on the problems in some of the country's marginalised communities that have featured in many major crimes.
"We are not going to get sustained crime reduction without sustained, properly executed community renewal efforts," said Narcisse.
She also had strong words for Jamaicans, some of whom, she claims, have not been playing their part in assisting the security forces in their efforts to apprehend and prosecute criminals.
Narcisse argued that the Government and the Commissioner of Police, while being the accountable entities, need the support of all Jamaicans if the crime monster is to be tamed.
In the meantime, the civil society coalition says it has not yet received a response to its open letter that was written to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in which it listed the recent spate of crimes among critical issues that needed the attention of the prime minister.