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Officials vow to slash St James murders

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 08, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Concerned about May's bloody month in St James in which 17 people died violently, Minister of National Security Peter Bunting and Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington journeyed to the western parish on Friday, where they met with senior police officers and later sought to assure residents that measures are being implemented to stem the bloodletting.

Following the meeting and a tour of sections of the resort city of Montego Bay, Bunting told reporters at a press briefing at the Freeport Police Station that the police did not intend to have a repeat of last month's violent deaths.

"St James in the month of May saw significant slippages and we are not waiting for the slippages to develop into a trend, so that is why we felt it was important to come immediately and get an understanding on what is happening on the ground," Bunting argued.

"I am satisfied with the reports that we got from ACP (Warren) Clarke and his officers that May will not be replicated in June and future months," Bunting continued.

Among those murdered in the parish last month were People's National Party's vice-chairman for West Central James Kenley 'Bebe' Stephens, two children, a hotel entertainment manager and two taxi operators.

St James, generally regarded as a hotbed of criminal activity for many years, has had a high incidence of violent deaths when compared to the other parishes in the Police's Area I Division, which include Trelawny, Hanover and Westmoreland.

In 2009, the parish recorded more than 250 homicides.

Last year, however, the number of persons murdered in the parish fell to 150.

But in spite of the reduction, Commissioner Ellington on Friday promised to reduce the number of homicides even further this year, despite the current spike in violent deaths in the parish.

"We are determined to bring down the number even further this year. We are surely not satisfied at where we are," the commissioner stressed.

According to information provided by the police, up to last Friday 59 people were murdered in St James, when compared to 56 at the same time last year.

Responding to questions from the Jamaica Observer, the commissioner said that arising from a review of the policing strategies in the parish, a number of additional measures will be implemented to boost crime- fighting capabilities.

Noting, however, that the measures are "no major shift in the JCF's crime-fighting strategies", Ellington said that, as of this Wednesday there will be a deployment of 50 lawmen to the parish from the Mobile Reserve unit in Kingston.

"We are also looking over the medium to long term to bring an additional 100 persons here, but that depends on the ability to get living accommodation for them," he said, adding that "we are actually looking at some of them living at the Falmouth Police Station."

Better use, he added, will also be made of the sharing of available information and "scare resources".

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