SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland - PRESIDENT of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce Nigel Myrie is calling for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) to play a major role in the search for illegal guns in the wake of a spike in murders recorded in the parish since the start of the year.
"The guns are out there. Let us get our soldiers involved in the crime fighting because there is a major problem. We are not talking Martial law, but bring them (soldiers) out into the communities, and let them go through the communities and do some searches," Myrie stressed.
"They (guns) don't just come out and disappear and reappear like phantoms. They are real. They are killing people."
Up to last week, guns factored in most of the 63 homicides which have been reported in the parish since the start of the year. The amount is six more than the 57 recorded by the police for the corresponding period
According to Commander of the Westmoreland Police Division, Superintendent Carol McKenzie, the Torneal Haughton-led Alma Gang is responsible for more than 50 per cent of the number of homicides recorded in the parish since January.
Haughton is accused of murdering the two women whose bodies were dumped in a cave in 2008. He reportedly absconded bail and has been a fugitive since.
Last week Wednesday, two alleged members of the feared Alma Gang were killed during an alleged firefight with members of a joint police/military operation, led by Superintendent McKenzie in the Alma community.
A total of six firearms were reportedly recovered during the operation- an AK 47 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, one Berretta 380 semi automatic pistol, one 45 calibre pistol, and two 9-mm calibre handguns.
But, Myrie argued that there need to be a sustained effort to rid the streets of illegal guns, even when there is a lull in shootings.
"The police know that the guns are out there. So go out there and find the guns. You know the communities they are in. Don't say you know they are out there, and because nothing is happening you leave them alone. Bring them in. Put the focus on finding them and get them off the streets," urged the head of the Westmoreland business community.
He argued that the "impression we are getting from the police" is that when licensed firearm holders use their weapons to defend themselves and family members they are being thoroughly investigated, while gunmen are seemingly allowed a free reign to create havoc and mayhem with their illegal guns.
"If a businessman has a (licensed) gun and shoots a criminal he is taken into custody. He is locked up for protecting property and life. But these criminals are allowed to keep their guns because the police say they are not flaring up. There needs to be a zero-tolerance approach, a no-nonsense approach to these illegal guns coming into the country from Negril point to Morant Point," Myrie told the Jamaica Observer West.
A day after last week's joint police/military operation in Westmoreland, Commission of Police Owen Ellington, in his address at the Annual General Meeting of the Police Officers' Association in Montego Bay, noted that there is always an increase in murders when crime fighters adopt a casual approach, as opposed to a more aggressive stance.
"I am always amazed that whenever we seem to soften up in our approach to dealing with criminals, then we get these spikes in murders and shootings. And whenever we adopt some more confrontational and aggressive stance in them, we see crime figures going in the right direction," he explained.
As a solution to reverse the recent spike in murders, sweeping not only across western Jamaica, but islandwide, Ellington gave members of the force the charge to be more confrontational in their approach in the fight against gangsters.
"I am again appealing to you ladies and gentlemen here, and those who will get the message that I am hoping to pass on, that we must take a more confrontational approach in dealing with gangsters. We must bring the offensive to them, and that is what the country expects of us, because the country wants good results in terms of the crime figures," Ellington noted.
He cited that fruits were borne by the confrontational approach during the recent Westmoreland operation and others in western Kingston and St James during which a number of illegal weapons were recovered.
A senior cop assigned to a station in western Jamaica, who did not want to be named, told the Observer West that some crime fighters in the region have become apprehensive in taking the fight to criminals, due to the powers invested in the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).
"They have become laid back, because they are saying they don't want to get into any trouble and have to borrow money to seek lawyers to defend themselves after they are prosecuted by INDECOM," the senior police officer opined.
Commissioner Ellington, however, told the Police Officers' Association group that he was aware "of concerns about declining moral" over the operation of INDECOM.
"The concerns which are abounding, not just within the officer corps, but certainly amongst the rank and file to a greater sense, about the operation of INDECOM, but they have not gone unnoticed," said Ellington.