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MPs ponder application of laws to enhance police investigations

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, March 15, 2019

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ATTORNEY General Marlene Malahoo Forte says it may be time to bring some provisions, which are now under specific pieces of law, into general application in order to enhance police investigations.

Speaking at Wednesday's meeting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament which is reviewing the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, 2014, commonly called the anti-gang law, the attorney general said there appears to be a challenge within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) regarding the application of several pieces of legislation.

Malahoo Forte agreed with Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting that there already exists powerful measures in a number of laws, such as the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Interception of Communications Act, which give the police some of the authority which is now being proposed in submissions to the committee by the JCF and the Ministry of National Security.

This includes a control order, which chief technical director in the National Security Ministry Rohan Richards explained would, for example, give law enforcement the ability to apply for an intercept warrant, and curtail movements associated with gangs and criminals.

The attorney general insisted, however, that there is a need to bring some of these measures under general application to further assist the police.

She said: “I wonder if in investigating criminal organisations in accordance with the law, there is a feeling within the JCF that the tools that exist elsewhere are only applicable under those laws it would bring into sharp focus the issue (about) training and understanding the menu of tools available and from which we can pull. It is a matter that we have to probe deeply because we continue to pass laws and we have not been able to utilise [them]. There seems to be something missing, somewhere, of an understanding of where you look and when you find, how you use (these laws). I don't necessarily know that more laws by themselves are going to help us without taking stock.”

Bunting had noted that the proposed control orders do not add value to law enforcement, as several other pieces of legislation already provide for procedures such as surveillance of suspects, and interception of communication.

“You can use these investigative powers under various pieces of legislation to do a complete work-up on these individuals. Maybe we are not using it as effectively as we can, but the tools are available to the entire JCF,” he stressed.

He said competent investigators are overloaded with cases, which could be hampering them from putting these tools into effect.

Bunting, meanwhile, also questioned the proposed declaration of a criminal organisation/gang, and the need to provide for a registry in law.

He argued that this is an administrative matter as gang members' data could easily be obtained from the criminal records office, as is necessary, instead of creating new legislation to set up a registry.

The MP also picked at the proposed provision for the declaration of criminal organisations, pointing out that the names of these gangs are not fixed. “So you might have the 'Jack Mandora' gang and [when] Jack Mandora gets killed it becomes the 'John Tom gang'; we have seen these names change over time, quite frequently. I'm not sure what the effect of the declaration is going to do, short of having some members or leaders to pin to this organisation,” he said.

Bunting also pointed out that declaring gangs by names could present a challenge for the police when name changes occur.


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