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Laing ready to be a cop again

Ex-crime fighter lashes former commissioner Col MacMillan

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 08, 2012    

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FORMER high-profile detective and now entertainment promoter, Isaiah Laing has been out of the police force for 16 years. But he has maintained a hunger to fight crime and be on the frontline again.

Laing, 55, has described the crime situation in Jamaica as an established practice by some people who want their businesses to expand. At the same time, the chief executive at Supreme Promotions, producer of the one-night reggae show Sting, blamed former police commissioner, the late Col Trevor MacMillan, for breaking down the barriers to crime, when policemen like himself were making serious dents in the operations of the criminal underworld.

Laing, who spent 20 years in the Jamaica Constabulary Force before he was retired in 1996, said that putting tough crime fighters on the frontline and facing criminals head-on was one of the ways that the crime figures could show a reduction.

"Crime in Jamaica is a business... a big business," Laing told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.

"People organise crimes most times to boost their businesses. It is something that has been going on for a long time and it is not something that will not stop like that. I don't know if the police know about some of these things, but I know what I know when I was in the system. I knew what was going on," he said.

"I would take a special appointment in the police force. Some of the policemen don't understand the street. If I am offered, I would work with the force again. I am a policeman until I die," he declared.

Laing is still peeved that he was not allowed to continue his career as a policeman after MacMillan, who later served as minister of national security, decided against re-enlisting him, when, according to Laing, he had a lot more to offer.

Laing started Sting in 1984, he said, to make extra money for himself and to assist poor people. The show gradually made money over the years and might have turned up the volume of envy among members of the force, as MacMillan first put the fearless detective back into uniform after 16 years of wearing plain clothes. Other members of the force, like Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford, were similarly dealt with.

"When I saw MacMillan come into the thing in 1993 and dealt with it without understanding it, I knew that he had an ulterior motive," Laing charged. "How could you have 10 policemen who were doing the work — the 10 police who were running the crime front — and you just come in and shelf all 10 and put some other people out there on the street who don't want to do the job?" he asked.

"You had 'Schoolboy Richie' (Errol Richards), who ran downtown; 'Bigga' Ford at Constant Spring; Mikey Scott at Half-Way-Tree, (Altemoth) 'Paro' Campbell; Lepkie Young at Operations base, that's how it worked. We put a lot of pressure on gunmen," Laing said.

"We wanted to run the street and we know how the street is run, and you take off the 10 of us and put some other people who don't want to work out there. What did you expect?

"There are too many guns in Jamaica and I don't know where the head space of the police is. I tell them that if they work hard, the success will come. Don't go hunting for things, things will come to you. The force must be intelligence-driven.

"You can't give a tailor shoes to make. He wouldn't know what to do. He would have to start all over. When we came off the frontline in 1993 that was when the crime rate started to move upwards.

"I was put back in uniform, and placed behind a desk at 'Never Never Land'," Laing said, referring to a downtown Kingston police department where those who have fallen out of favour with the force's hierarchy were deposited.

"The superintendent down at Central Police Station at the time said that he couldn't have me sitting down around a desk, so he gave me a special squad to run. We touched the road and in the first week we found nine guns," Laing said.

According to Laing, he imported a BMW motor vehicle in 1990 while MacMillan was head of the Revenue Protection Division, but MacMillan could not understand how a sergeant of police got money to bring in a car like that.

"At that time, Sting was going on and we were making money. That year we had over 30,000 people at the show, when Ninja Man starred it. He didn't want me and 'Bigga' Ford to be in the force. It was just his ego. He wanted all the fame and glory and Laing and 'Bigga' Ford were the two popular names at the time," Laing said.

"I had a whole lot more to contribute to the force. I wrote the programme for the anti-crime squad when I got shot in 1991 and I wasn't sure that I would be going back on the frontline.

"I told commissioner at the time Roy Thompson that we needed something to deter the gunmen because if we didn't have name-brand people out there, those boys would run amok over Jamaica. I gave him the anti-crime programme one Friday afternoon and the prime minister announced it in Parliament the next Tuesday," Laing said.

Admitting that he emulated Keith 'Trinity' Gardner's style of policing, Laing said that he seized seven illegal guns in one week while he was stationed at Matilda's Corner, as crime in Beverley Hills and surrounding areas dipped. Criminals, he said, who were making life miserable for residents of those areas, migrated when they heard that he was patrolling the zone.

He insists that some amount of toughness must be shown when dealing with certain criminals, while at the same time underlining what he called another of his hallmarks — that of taking appropriate notes while investigating criminal cases.

"Sometimes you have to deal with criminals cold, just like how they deal with people. At the same time, 'Bigga' Ford, 'Schoolboy Richie' and myself were not people who just went around shooting. We wrote a lot and when we went into the witness box we did not lose cases.

"In 1984, I gave evidence before Mr Justice Billy Walker, and someone who worked with the judge said that Walker had commented that in 10 years it was the first time that a policeman ever came into the court and gave evidence so precise. In that case four men were charged for murder and they were convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to life.

"Kent Pantry was the prosecutor and he said that the matter, how it was done, was used as a test case in England," added Laing.

All told, Laing won 39 consecutive cases in the Gun Court, a few of them before Justice Derrick Hugh, a judge he calls his friend, who was murdered at his East Kingston home for resisting corruption in 1988.

Describing the constabulary now as top-heavy, Laing said that too much emphasis was being placed on "brain power" with many having "Masters" (degree) and some not wanting to go on the road and face things, some saying that they work too hard in school to give away their lives.

"The amount of nights that I lay down in drains in 'Jungle' (Arnett Gardens), with mosquitoes flying around your ears and you can't run them because it might just be the time when those criminals are walking past. I remember one night when my police party met up on 14 gunmen with high-powered weapons in Rema (Wilton Gardens). That night we swore that we were dead, based on the amount of shots that they fired at our team that was headed by (Arthur) 'Stitch' Martin," stated Laing.

Oozing with confidence that he is respected by highly rated policemen like retired Senior Superintendent Reneto Adams and others, Laing said that he found 145 illegal guns, single-handedly, when he was in the force. But since he has been away from the firing line, he has recovered a further 230 and handed them over to the police, as his informants tell him where guns are hidden, all over the island. They still have confidence in him, he said, as they do not trust other policemen.

His biggest accomplishment, he said, was recovering guns in the way that he did — purely intelligence driven. But that, he alleged, led him to being transferred, politically, from Admiral Town Police Station where he spent 12 years.

"I got intelligence about some men who had locked away some guns. One of them was locked up at the jail at Admiral Town and I went behind the cell and called out to him, making him think that it was one of the men from 'Jungle' calling him," Laing said.

"I identified myself as one of his cronies who wanted to know where the guns were so that they could shoot up the station that night and take him out of lockup. He sent me to someone at a yard but I went there and there was nobody around. About 20 minutes later, I returned to the back of the jail and said the man that he had sent me to had gone to the country, and I asked him who else he knew that would know where the guns were kept.

"So he sent me to another yard and when we went there, we found an M16 belonging to a 'Don' in the area.

"That was what got me transferred. The Don said to me 'bwoy Laing, you too good, you know, we can't keep you here.' So the MP at the time went to the commissioner of police and arranged a transfer for me to Half-Way-Tree station," he alleged.

"That same year, before I was transferred, I was in my office and somebody unassuming walked in and told me where some rifles were in 'Jungle'. Until this day, nobody knows who told me and I am still not talking because the person is still alive. There were five M16s and one sniper rifle which I seized."

Laing said that he was never influenced by politics, despite being a cousin of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and admitted to never voting in a national election before, as to have a political leaning, he said, would have affected his performance.

"When I was down by Denham Town, I got into seven fatal shootings and they said I was PNP, so they sent me to Admiral Town. I had killed the brother of a prominent man in a shoot-out in the Denham Town area, so I was transferred.

"I went to Admiral Town and started doing the work and they said I was a Labourite. But I just tell myself that I am a policeman, a straight policeman, and maybe the only policeman who doesn't have a political leaning, and it fooled them all the time because they have me on both sides. Some of the police top brass said I was PNP, others said I was JLP.

"I found the first two M16 guns in West Kingston. They were buried in a concrete vault," said Laing, who is planning to release his autobiography, which he has titled 'Super Cop Laing and the Posses'.

That, he said, should happen in time for this year's staging of Sting in December.

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