BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
PORTLAND should register an overall 13 per cent reduction in major crimes this year.
That's according to head of the Portland Police Division Superintendent Noel Christie who said his team would be revving up operational activities by some 20 per cent as it moves to keep criminals at bay.
"It is achievable because last year we had a 28 per cent reduction in major crimes and a 50 per cent increase in operations," Christie told the Jamaica Observer North East.
The superintendent said the parish was already way ahead of its year-end projections, and as such was likely to surpass the target.
Christie, who was reassigned to the parish nearly two years ago from the Kingston Central Police Division, said the parish recorded the least amount of murders in the nation last year, with only 10 reported cases. He said they were hoping the numbers would have been fewer since there were nine such incidents the previous year. Last year's murder toll is, however, a stark improvement over 2009 when 23 murders — said to be one of the most on record — were committed in the division.
The superintendent attributes the parish's low crime rate to quality policing, co-operation from the citizens and its geographic location.
"If an offence is committed in Portland and they are migrating criminals, we would have roadblocks set up at both ends of the parish to get them," he said, adding that any alternative route from the main road would take the offenders into rugged terrain.
He added that Portlanders are highly cooperative with the police and this helps the success of their efforts. Christie said many of the crimes are committed by persons known to the citizens and this helps in the police's ability to quickly dispense with offences.
The police superintendent said housebreaking and larceny account for the majority of crimes committed in the parish.
"Over 52 per cent of our major crimes have to do with this," Christie said, adding that the offences often occur in dormitory communities when residents leave for work.
The senior cop also informed the Observer North East that the police have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to persons carrying offensive weapons. The initiative, he said, was fuelled by the fact that of the six murders committed since the start of this year, five involved weapons.
As such, he said, each of the 10 stations in the division has intensified efforts to seize them at various checkpoints.
"By doing this we try to take away the opportunity for such persons to commit these crimes," he said.
There is also a programme targeting schools, where arrangements have been made with the Community Safety Officers and the deans of discipline to organise the search of students on a regular basis. The programme has already yielded success, as Christie said a 12-inch blade was retrieved from a male student on the first day of this academic year.
"We have seen an increase in violent crimes and that has become a concern for us and so we have intensified our approach to seizing these weapons," Christie said.
The superintendent said he tries to be as interactive as possible with residents and this is done through regular meetings in the various police areas. He also tries to intervene, as far as possible, to help resolve some of the community problems before they get to crisis proportion. This, Christie said, has helped on several fronts, such as planned protests.
He cited a recent example where his intervention, ahead of a planned demonstration to protest deplorable road conditions, resulted in a peaceful staging. The residents are usually receptive to the arguments of the police because of the relationship which exists between the two groups, he said.
"We got wind of this demonstration and we were able to speak with the organisers beforehand, and as a result, they had a peaceful protest. There was no blocking of the road," he said.
"Depending on what it is, I would either contact the National Works Agency, the member of parliament, mayor, and any other relevant stakeholders so as to have some feedback for the people when we go to talk to them about a planned protest," he said.
As for the belief that Portland's open sea borders have been used to smuggle contraband into the island, Christie said there is not much evidence to support the claim. The superintendent said despite numerous raids on fishing beaches, the police have failed to recover any large quantities of drugs or weapons on the high seas.
"There is always the information or rumour that the place is used for smuggling, because there is a wide unprotected border, but the police have not had any major success in this area," he said.
He noted, however, that one of his team's biggest success to date in terms of border partol has been the recovery of some 2,000 pounds of ganja when a boat overturned in the waters off the Portland coast.
Another challenge for the police, Christie said, has been a perceived increase in sexual offences against minors.
According to the superintendent, 16 such cases have been reported since this year, compared to two for the previous year.
"It is difficult to say if it is an increase in this type of crime or it is an increase in the reporting," he said.