KINGSTON, Jamaica — Twenty-six juveniles appeared before the nation's courts in 2021 on serious charges including murder and gun crimes, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson has pointed out, describing it as “another unfortunate reality,” for Jamaica.
Anderson made the statement at a Jamaica House media briefing on Sunday where the Government announced a Zone of Special Operation [ZOSO] for violence-plagued communities in south Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
Of the 26 children placed before the courts for violent crimes last year, Anderson said a number of them were members of gangs.
“Also last year, 30 of the persons who were charged for murders, shootings, illegal possession of firearm and other crimes were able to commit other offences whilst on bail,” Anderson said.
He told the media briefing that since a sixth ZOSO was declared last week Sunday in Parade Gardens in Central Kingston which has been wracked by gang warfare for an extended period, residents have had some respite from the ongoing violence.
Anderson said that the heavy deployment of the security forces, backed up by a suite of operational activities have had the desired effect of reducing the freedom of action of gangs and thereby reducing, to some degree, the fear within the community.
The commissioner disclosed that 18 of the 20 persons of interest who were being sought by the police have been interviewed and two remain in custody.
“We're also seeing signs of former rivals [being] willing to come to speak to each other when facilitated by us,” Anderson revealed.
The commissioner said intelligence driven operations led to last Friday's seizure of nine firearms and the arrest of a “significant figure in the illegal arms trade” in the Mountain View Avenue area.
Over in Westmoreland, where the latest ZOSO has now been declared, he said intelligence has led to the arrest of persons within the past few days in the Whithorn area, who were wanted for murder and other crimes. Additionally, the gang unit within the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Unit has arrested nine members of one gang, four of whom were previously before the court on anti-gang charges.
Yet, Anderson lamented that despite the efforts of the police, Westmoreland, in 2021 recorded 128 murders, an increase of 60 per cent when compared to 2020, and the fourth largest of all police divisions. He said murders in Westmoreland were mainly due to gang conflicts and the propensity of gangsters to settle differences with extreme violence and with the use of illegal firearms.
The commissioner noted that 2022 has started in a similar way “and so we're responding accordingly”. It is in this context that the ZOSO has been declared.
“The zone encompasses the epicentre of gang activity in this part of Westmoreland,” said Anderson while noting that the area is among the top ten communities with the highest number of murders in the country.
The top cop said poor infrastructure and blight have served to increase the community's vulnerability and raised the level of concern on the circumstances of this relatively small but significant community. He shared that during a recent visit to the area, it was obvious that the fear factor in the community was real, with residents of the Dalling Street and Dexter Street areas suffering from violence fatigue.