Holness says Gov't will not abandon SOEs

Holness says Gov't will not abandon SOEs

By Balford Henry
Senior Staff Reporter

Monday, January 27, 2020

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness said yesterday that to abandon the current crime-fighting strategies of the security forces would set back the country another 10-20 years.

“One thing the country will know is that this prime minister and this Administration will stick to the plan, because any deviation at this point in time will, except for improving the plan — and we are always open to suggestions — but to go and abandon our strategy would only set us back another 10 or 20 years,” he told media personnel attending yesterday's press conference at Jamaica House to announce the extension of the current states of public emergency (SOEs) to the Eastern Kingston Police Division (EKPD).

The new SOE, which came into effect shortly after midnight yesterday, will spread across several urban and rural constituencies and communities in the Corporate Area (Kingston and St Andrew).

Speakers at the briefing, which also included chief of defence staff at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Lt General Rocky Meade and Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, as well as Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, refrained from naming communities that would be affected, but explained that a number of constituencies in eastern Kingston and Port Royal, central Kingston and eastern, south-eastern, east rural St Andrew, spanning an area from the southern coast of Kingston to Mountain View Avenue in the north, and from South Camp Road in the west to Harbour View in the east, would be included.

The police commissioner informed the media that the area was chosen because it has persistently remained one of the country's crime hot spots.

“There are currently 32 criminal gangs and over 16 now actively engaged in various violent conflicts in the division, especially shootings, when compared to 2018,” Anderson said. “There are 33 wanted persons and another 34 violence influencers within the division,” he added.

He also noted that during 2019, Kingston eastern recorded an increase in violent crimes, especially shooting when compared to 2018.Murders increased by 16 per cent, while shootings increased by 49 per cent — two-thirds of which was attributed to gang activity in 2019. The police recovered 36 firearms and 622 rounds of ammunition in the east Kingston area alone.

Already since the start of 2020, the division has recorded 11 murders in 25 days, compared to only three over the corresponding period of 2019.

Lt General Meade noted that the introduction of the SOE will give the security forces temporary additional powers, including searches, rescues and a limited suspension of certain civil rights.

“We believe that this is necessary in order to give the security forces the necessary space to carry on operational tasks that will be required to help bring a sense of normality to the affected communities,” he said.

Meade urged drivers approaching the checkpoints to lower their windows and turn on their lights during dark periods.

“As they comply, there is no need to slow down beyond what is reasonable to observe the activities at the checkpoints,” he suggested.

Minister of National Security Chang noted the need for the SOE to be set up in the area, pointing out that a teacher was killed at Vauxhall High School on Windward Road the previous night, which he said was characteristic of the gang warfare in the communities.

“And we assure the security forces of our continued support in carrying out their duties,” Dr Chang told the security leaders.

Member of Parliament for Kingston Eastern and Port Royal, Phillip Paulwell last September condemned the ongoing shootings in some areas of his constituency, including Mountain View Avenue, after gang warfare continued for several weeks.

He called on the commissioner of police and the security minister to urgently provide additional resources to the east Kingston police to increase their effectiveness in “dealing with this grave situation”.

“The perpetrators of gun violence should recognise that fighting, shooting and killing each other do not provide sustainable solutions to disagreements between members of different communities which appear to be at the heart of the violence,” Paulwell said then.

“The ongoing loss of lives and injury to persons cannot be allowed to continue, whether or not they are combatants or law-abiding citizens,” he added.

The new SOE joins other such activities currently in place in lower St Andrew and central Kingston, Clarendon, Hanover, St Andrew South Police Division, St Catherine, St James and Westmoreland.

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