BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — The police command in St Elizabeth is assuring residents that it will be moving swiftly to counter a spike in criminal activity in sections of the parish, most notably Santa Cruz.
Deputy Superintendent Lanford Salmon, who directs anti-crime operations in St Elizabeth, told parish councillors at their monthly meeting last Thursday that despite the recent spike, major crimes in the parish, including murders (21) are actually down, compared to the same time last year.
"What is happening is that there are some little pockets, particularly Santa Cruz, where there have been some issues recently (including robberies and shootings)," Salmon said.
According to Salmon, the criminal perpetrators are "known" to the police who will be mounting operations targeting them, despite "challenges with terrain".
Salmon said armed criminals were using the rugged terrain at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains "as cover".
Over recent days there have been multiple reports of gunmen terrorising bars and households in and around Santa Cruz.
Salmon urged councillors to keep their "ears to the ground" and to report what they know to the police.
Santa Cruz apart, he listed Lacovia and neighbouring districts, Burnt Savannah and Junction as areas of greatest concern.
The police operations chief said the trade in ganja for guns was a major problem. Equally, he said, the flight of hardened criminals from urban centres, including Kingston — as a result of police pressure in those areas -- to quiet rural communities such as are to be found in St Elizabeth was a huge challenge.
He reiterated the need for residents to report to the police the presence of strangers in their midst.
While pledging their support for the police, several councillors spoke out strongly about what they perceived as a lack of proactivity on the part of police personnel in dealing with reports from residents. They also condemned breaches of confidentiality.
Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher (PNP, Balaclava division) cited a personal case where confidentiality was breached and urged the St Elizabeth police to take steps to tighten up in that area. Fisher also questioned what he saw as the failure of the police to take action against "known" drug bases in Santa Cruz.
Councillor Vinceroy Blake (JLP, Lacovia division) told of a personal experience in which he felt the police had failed to act swiftly after his car was broken into and personal items stolen.
Blake said he believed the inadequate response was the result of laziness. In another instance, he said, the police had failed to take action against a known wrongdoer, despite repeated reports.
"You have some lazy policemen," said Blake.
Salmon reminded councillors that the police needed adequate proof before people could be arrested and charged. Further, he said, it was often very difficult to gather the required evidence for cases involving crack and cocaine.
Salmon also challenged councillors not to give up when frustrated in their attempts to assist the police but to find another police source or "call another number".
"Move on to another level," said Salmon. "If you don't trust Lanford Salmon there are other numbers you can call. Work it," he said.
He also reminded councillors that police personnel were products of their environment; and often with many faults.
"We must realise that policemen and women are products of the society, and if a man a 'tief', six months can't change him. But bear that in mind... we can sit or we can talk but we must decide what we want. Whether or not we want this parish to clean up, whether or not we want to attack the criminals, so if you try one number and it don't work, try another one...," he said.
Some councillors, including Layton Smith (PNP, Myersville division), who brought the perceived hike in crime to the attention of the council in September, and Daren Powell (PNP, Malvern division) spoke out strongly about what they felt was an unequal distribution of police vehicles.
They argued that while some police stations were well equipped in terms of mobility, the needs of others were being ignored.
Cetany Holness (JLP, Junction division) told the meeting that he and the residents of his community were actively assisting the police in fighting crime.
"I am not working as a councillor alone; I am working as a justice of the peace," Holness said to laughter and applause.