MANDEVILLE, Manchester —A high-profile task force comprising top cops, clergymen, community leaders and educators has been set up to help reduce the number of domestic violence cases in the parish following a number of murders and deadly domestic disputes which have rocked central Jamaica recently.
The task force, the brainchild of National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who is also Member of Parliament for Central Manchester, was officially launched at Northern Caribbean University (NCU) on Thursday, in direct response to the parish's domestic violence problem.
Police statistics revealed in April this year showed that for the first quarter of 2011, 10 of the 32 murders committed in the parish were domestic. They also showed that between January and March this year, 23 persons were murdered in Manchester, five more than the 18 over the same period last year. However, major crimes have dipped from 312 this time in 2011 to 276 this year.
In early June, Mandeville doctor Clinton Lewis was found dead in his apartment. He was killed, police say, by someone he knew. The suspect, Vaughn Lee Edwards, is still on the run.
Also, just two weeks ago, the blood-soaked body of well-known radiologist Dr Phillip Chamberlain was found at the Mandeville Radiology and Imaging Service office he set up 10 years ago upon returning to Jamaica. A woman, Gillian Bernard from Spalding in the parish, is said to be a person of interest in the case.
At a July 20 press conference, during which the police released a list of the parish's most wanted, head of the Manchester police Superintendent Lascelles Taylor told reporters that the suspects were related to their victims "in some way".
According to a number of top cops, including Taylor, once a crime is committed by a person known to the victim, it is categorised as domestic violence. This erodes the widely held view that only acts committed within families or among close friends are considered domestic in nature.
Lauding the creation of the task force, head of the Area Three police Assistant Commissioner Derrick Cochrane said research has shown that when there is no professional intervention in a dispute, it is likely to become deadly. "But the converse is true," he said. "In disputes where the police intervened, it usually resulted in peace and reconciliation."
Task force chairman Reverend Oliver Daley said the group, which has already held public meetings in some troubled Manchester communities, will be zeroing in on the breakdown of the family structure.
"No society can grow and prosper with weak families. There are also some political issues. Our politics is for the enhancement and development of society, so to the extent that it becomes disruptive, we need to address that," he said.
Bunting, who was guest speaker at the function, said he was spurred to establish the task force when police statistics revealed that Manchester's domestic violence figures were higher than Clarendon's, a parish known for its high crime rate. In 2011, there were 265 domestic violence cases in Manchester, compared to 203 in Clarendon.
Though he did not give specific figures, Minister Bunting said Manchester had seen a 44 per cent reduction in the number of domestic crimes in the first quarter of 2012. However, it was still being treated as a major problem, the security minister said.
"Research indicates that domestic disputes in most cases start out as mere disagreements between friends and families and then intensify because of poor anger management," he said.
The Minister said he expects the domestic violence figures to drop further when a group of 25 para-professional counsellors trained by NCU is sent into the troubled communities.
Well-known behavioural scientist at NCU Dr Grace Kelly, who is also a member of the task force, spearheaded the para-professional counsellors' training. She said the group of 25, who received their certificates Thursday, was trained as first respondents to identify potentially explosive issues and to deal with them at the outset, or refer them to trained counsellors.
The Task Force, which is formally referred to as the Manchester Dispute Resolution and Violence Prevention Association, is chaired by prominent local pastor Revered Oliver Daley. In addition to Taylor and Kelly, its members are Custos Sally Porteous, Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Freckleton, ACP Derrick Cochrane, NCU church pastor Michael Harvey, Jennifer Hutchinson from the Parish Council and Thelma Vassel, Helen Grandison and Devon Richards who are members of the community.