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Portland businesses suffering

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 20, 2020

BUSINESS owners and operators in Port Antonio, Portland, are outraged over what they said is a spate of robberies that have plagued their once quiet town since the nightly curfews were imposed to restrict movements in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With the current pandemic and the curfew laws that have been set, the Port Antonio business owners, who would once look out for each other, said they are forced to lock down early and leave it to the police officials to oversee and ensure that the communities are safe.

But the businessmen, who have set up shop in Port Antonio for over 20 years, said they are living in the upside down, as the parish once known for its safe environs and low crime rate has left them fearful because of the robberies which are seemingly becoming commonplace.

Over the past four months, since the curfews were imposed, Portland business owners said they experienced six robberies and two attempted robberies that have gone unresolved.

Amidst the robberies, the business owners also claim that the police officials have responded with a lack of concern, passivity and callousness.

One business owner, who wished to not be identified for fear of becoming a target in what was described as a somewhat close-knit community, said that in the wee hours of the night, the store doors were smashed open and the alarm system ripped apart, right before over a million dollars worth of goods were stolen.

The business owner expressed distress for the major setback the robbery had on the establishment. However, he told the Jamaica Observer they were more appalled by the way in which the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) responded to the loss.

“It took the police weeks to take a statement. They didn't take fingerprints but informed me that they're still investigating. They are too laid back and comfortable in Portland. There have been more robberies since my case and I still have not seen any action or moves towards protecting the business places during curfew,” the business owner said, while highlighting that most of the business hit had metal bars pried open, grilles cut and glasses broken before cash, expensive alcohol, card machines, computers and cashier drawers were stolen.

Another businessman shared that his business is possibly the fourth to be robbed within the space of two months. His concern is that his business is located on a main street and the damage done to his property would have taken hours, and so the slow pace in responding to the robbery and no witnesses was unacceptable.

“These robbers are aware that the police officers are not paying attention and are not patrolling the areas. Port Antonio is very a small community and to have our businesses located on main streets being robbed is a testament of the job being done by the police force.”

He also shared that when he found his business place in ruin, he called the police and was disgruntled when they turned up hours later.

Subsequently, members of the Portland business community are pleading with the JCF to ensure that their members are being rotated and commanded to patrol and pay attention in the communities in which they operate.

“If we do not pay attention to the small stuff then they will only lead to bigger stuff. If these issues are not addressed, Port Antonio will no longer be a safe place to live or build homes and businesses.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent Duane Wellington, commander of the Portland Police Division, told the Sunday Observer that he was aware of the concerns and on Thursday night he had a meeting with the business community where representatives of five out of the six businesses affected were in attendance.

In response to the other claims put forward by the business people regarding complacency with the investigations, Superintendent Wellington said he would have to do his own investigation in order to give a fair comment.



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