News

Young 'Shottas' take on frontline duties

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Sunday Observer staff reporter matthewsk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 09, 2014    

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A new league of killers has taken over frontline duties for gangs at the community level.

Criminals coming under pressure from police are making a number of changes to their operations, one of which involves the appointment of younger members to do jobs that were once given to senior members.

"We are seeing more of these cases where youngsters between ages 17-25 are being given more roles to carry out the major crimes in communities where gangs operate," Steve McGregor, who heads the volatile Kingston Western Police Division told the Jamaica Observer.

The police said that in the first month of the year alone, approximately 25 of these young criminals, all below age 25, have been apprehended in the volatile Kingston West division in connection with serious crimes.

The latest three were nabbed during a series of operations that took place in Denham Town last week. Three high-powered weapons, including an AK 47 were seized during the raids.

"The men were between 17 and 18 years old," a senior member of the Major Investigation Task Force (MIT) said.

According to the police, criminals between ages 16 and 20 are being used as front men by gangs to commit deadly crimes in communities.

"Young criminals are being placed as front men by criminal gangs to drive fear in the hearts of citizens in communities while older members venture out of their haven to commit other crimes such as contract killings," the senior investigator said, supporting claims made by McGregor.

"It is a cold and calculated move by members of these gangs," he added.

Local law enforcers say the young criminals considered 'hot headed', are normally used to carry out the illegal acts because of a number

of reasons.

"One is they are fearless and if caught are able to serve longer sentences and still return to the streets as they have youth in their favour," the senior officer said.

Another reason is that they are harder to track on police databases, as some do not have criminal records.

The police also said that older members are more focused on the illegal money-making aspect of crime and will benefit from the diversion that the young criminals create while they venture outside of communities to commit other crimes.

A boy aged 16 was arrested last year after being on the Kingston Central Police most wanted list.

He was wanted for over 10 murders, several cases of shooting with intent and illegal possession of a firearm.

"It is a practice we are closely watching," the MIT investigator said.

Police said the practice keeps the presence of the gangs alive in the community and draws attention away from older members who more often carry out contract killings.

A probe carried out by the police recently revealed that murderers desperate to make quick money were willing to kill for as little as $5,000.

The information was confirmed by Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington who said that a number of arrests of people responsible for such acts have been made in recent times.

Last year detectives from MIT said that probes of more than 250 gun-related murders showed that the practice was rampant.

The police said that 30 per cent of the murder cases, or at least three out of every 10 murders that were cleared up, were found to be linked to contract killings.

"Police carried out investigations on at least 250 gun-related murder scenes, and of those figures we have had a clear-up rate of up to 60 per cent," one senior detective said.

Another detective told the Sunday Observer that intensified operations had led to the arrest of several killers, but a major challenge remained.

"Despite being able to arrest persons responsible for these murders, the police are unable to identify the true motives in a number of these cases," a senior detective told the Sunday Observer.

The police said that they have also found that in many of the cases, persons apprehended were not aware of the reasons contracts were taken out, but went ahead with the planned executions purely for money.

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