'Bad idea to fight fire with fire'
Guardsman Group disagrees with adding high-powered weapons to arsenal; says State and private sector operations different
Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay answers questions from journalists while her colleague, Senior Superintendent Christopher Phillips listens, after Sunday's attack by gunmen on a Beryllium courier team as they serviced an ATM at Braeton Parkway in Portmore, St Catherine.

Beryllium Limited has indicated that it has no interest in encouraging a running face-off between its teams and gunmen by adding high-powered weapons to its armoury, as this could further endanger its security officers and the general public.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Monday, following Sunday's brazen midday attack by criminals on one of its teams delivering cash to an automated teller machine (ATM) at Braeton Parkway in Portmore, St Catherine, Guardsman Group Director of Operations Commander George Overton argued that, "police operations and security operations are very different. One is paid for, and one is paid for by the State with no accountability of expenditure; therefore, I don't treat them as the same and I don't look at it the same, because they are different worlds."

The thieves are said to have made off with more than $20 million, just three weeks after a similar heist on the company in February, just a stone's throw away from the scene of Sunday's robbery.

In the February robbery the criminals killed one security officer, injured another and reportedly took more than $10 million. The Beryllium team was delivering cash to a Jamaica National Bank ATM.

OVERTON... I am wary of escalating to that level

On Monday, Overton, who is also head of the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security, said it would be a "bad idea to fight fire with fire".

"Do we start an arms race between the security industry and the criminal elements? I believe that the State has a responsibility and [it] needs to be understood what is State responsibility and what is private sector operations' responsibility".

Overton added, "When we put M16s — one in the hands of the criminal and one in the hands of the security guards — we know what the collateral damage is going to be; a lot of innocent people and people are going to be injured by the gunfire, and therefore I am wary of escalating to that level. I do believe that there is a need for weapons that are able to lay down a certain amount of covering fire by lots of ammunition being disbursed, but I can't agree with going to the calibre of the 5.56 to match the M16. I have a different position. I believe that at this point, escalating it is going to have a greater consequence to the nation than understanding who has the responsibility to deal with that," he stressed.

The gunmen, toting high-powered weapons, launched their attack on the team in the vicinity of Scotiabank, while they were in the process of servicing an ATM. Four security officers were shot and injured.

Responding to questions about the level of training for security officers, Overton stressed, "The guys yesterday handled themselves admirably. They conformed to the training that they have received and it is what probably saved their lives. You are using a force that is not trained or equipped to deal with the type of attacks that was laid down against them, and there is very little more that we could do under the circumstances yesterday."

He also emphasised that the unit involved in the incident was an armoured vehicle. After the attack in February, commander for the St Catherine South Police Division Christopher Phillips suggested that security companies review their operations, especially when making large financial deliveries, while noting that the Beryllium team was not travelling in an armoured vehicle in that incident.

Regarding future operations, Overton said he has had discussions with National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, while his superiors have held talks further up the policy chain.

"It is something that is in process right now and I am sure something will be coming out of better and greater collaboration going forward," he said.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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