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Online petition calls for state of emergency in three more parishes

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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AS the Government looks for ways to sustain the momentum from the state of public emergency in St James, which recently received Parliamentary approval for a 60-day extension, there is a growing online petition calling for similar measures across three other parishes.

According to the petition on Change.org, the country needs limited states of emergency in Clarendon, St Andrew and St Catherine, which the petitioners argue will have a beneficial ripple effect in the adjoining parishes of St Ann, Manchester and Kingston.

The petition cited murder figures for 2017, insisting that: “Based on those figures, we need at least five more states of emergency. But again the Government of Jamaica will say that they are short on resources. Therefore, we the people are demanding three more limited public states of emergency (SOE) from our Government. The SOEs should be strategic, in order to have an impact on other parishes”.

According to the lobby portal promoted as “a platform for change”, up to yesterday evening the petition had received 903 signatures.

On January 18, after St James closed out 2017 with 335 recorded murders, 67 more than the previous year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared an immediate state of public emergency for the parish, stating that: “Crime and violence, in particular murders, have been escalating in the parish of St James. I have been advised by the security forces in writing that the level of criminal activity... is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety”.

The move garnered wide-spread support across various sectors, particularly the business community, but also earned Jamaica negative international attention with Canada issuing travel warnings for the resort town of Montego Bay. Prior to that, the United States had also issued a travel advisory for the island.

On January 30, the prime minister asked Parliament for and got its approval for the 60-day extension, which will take the state of public emergency for St James into the month of May.

Police crime statistics up to the end of December reflected 1,612 murders, although the projection was for 1,526 by the end of the year. This was 263 more than the similar period in 2016, and equated to 19.5 per cent increase in the murder rate.

By the second week of this year, killings had already reached double digits, increasing the public outcry for the Government to quickly implement drastic measures, especially for areas such as St James which showed escalating murder levels.

The parishes which the petitioners are lobbying for similar measures for states of public emergency have also seen significant increases in murders in 2017, except for St Catherine, which recorded 242, or two more than 2016. St Andrew saw 290 murders, or 125 more than the previous year, with the St Andrew South Police Division accounting for 157 of those murders, over 88 in 2016. Clarendon saw 167 murders compared to 135 the previous year.

St Mary, Portland and Trelawny were the only parishes which had a reduction in murders in 2017, moving from 31 to 21; 15 to eight; and 30 to 21, respectively.

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