BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
RESIDENTS of Richmond Park in St Andrew are pleading with the authorities to rid their community of a growing plague of thieves.
The scourge of bandits heads a list of concerns raised in a meeting of the Richmond Park Citizens' Association last Sunday.
The residents said they are "sick and tired" of the hoodlums who -- in addition to robbing them -- use the community as a getaway from the busy Half-Way-Tree shopping hub.
"I am telling you, we can't take the robberies. Almost every day you hear that somebody get rob in Richmond Park, and we need some help from the police to deal with them," an elderly woman moaned, adding that the bandits usually pounce on victims in areas without street lights or near deserted lots.
Her information was corroborated by a middle-aged resident who told of one occasion on which he had to dart inside his yard to escape three men who tried to rob him at his gate.
"The robbery situation is very alarming," explained Ryan Small, public relations officer for the citizens' association. "They tend to hang out in those areas (unlit places and open lots) and prey on persons walking home. A lot of residents have lost their cellular phones, laptops, et cetera, that way."
Small also said that an increase in squatting and commercialisation in the once-peaceful community is adding to the frequency of incidents. More 'strangers' are entering the area to carry out business transactions, he said.
Last month, gunmen pounced on taxi driver Albert Nathaniel Gordon, also called 'Aye Aye' of Maxfield Avenue, and shot him dead while trying to relieve him of his day's earnings. The murder occurred on King's Avenue in the community, where the gunmen -- who had earlier boarded Gordon's taxi in Half-Way-Tree -- pushed his body from the vehicle before driving off.
Another male passenger narrowly escaped with his life after he was fired at by the hoodlums as he fled the scene. The incident crushed Gordon's family, especially his 10-year-old daughter.
A week later, residents said, gunmen robbed another taxi man. This time they were not as deadly, ordering the driver and female passengers from the vehicle after robbing them of an undetermined sum of cash.
Last Sunday, Inspector Lorna Fowler, station commander at the Half-Way-Tree Police Station, said the police have been analysing reports of robberies in the area and have realised that most are committed between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm. For that reason the police have increased patrols in the community during those hours.
Her colleague, Sergeant Florene Clarke, who also attended the meeting, encouraged residents to reactivate their neighbourhood watch, and help the police to protect their area.
"It is important that your citizens' association consider the importance of the neighbourhood watch. We find that once these groups are active, crime is normally down," she said, promising her assistance in helping residents to re-form the neighbourhood watch.
The police, however, said it was beyond their control to block certain roads in the community, a request made by residents who say they are fed up with the noise nuisance brought on by heavy traffic through the community, especially at nights.
In the meantime, Errol Greene, town clerk at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), had to stand his ground in a bitter face-off with residents while addressing their concerns regarding squatting and commercialisation of the community.
"Squatting is a very difficult problem to deal with. The Ministry of Housing is responsible for squatting on government property, but the police cannot go on private property and order persons out," he told residents. "You have to find out from the owner of the property 'cause they may have very well given the persons permission to be there," he said.
In regard to commercialisation, Greene said it is harder for the KSAC to clamp down on persons who have been operating businesses in the community for more than 15 years.
"Once persons have a business for more than 15 years, then it is very difficult to do anything about it. My advice to you is don't wait until it reach to the factory stage before you call us. The moment you see something out of the way, then you should call the KSAC," he said.
Greene's comment did little to assuage the residents who still blamed the KSAC for dragging its feet in dealing with persons who set up businesses in their community.