MONTEGO BAY, St James — Opposition spokesman on national security, Senator Peter Bunting said efforts should be made to strengthen the police force as the states of public emergency (SOEs) have lost their "shock and awe".
Senator Bunting, who is a former minister of national security, has always vocalised his discontent with the Government's use of SOEs to curtail crime. He told the Jamaica Observer that additional police personnel were needed to effectively manoeuvre the periodical surge of crime across the island.
"With the serial and routine use of SOEs in recent times, they have even lost the 'shock and awe' effect that accompanied declarations when they were infrequently used. Nationally, the best thing that can be done is a sustained increase in recruiting, training, and deploying more police personnel," Bunting said.
The Opposition spokesman's comments came on the heels of news that a member of the Tucker Community Development Committee (CDC) was gunned down at her business place in the community on Wednesday night, a day after the recent SOE in St James ended. Andrea Hanson, who was also a law student, was killed by persons still unknown to the police, a few metres away from a military checkpoint that was being occupied by members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) under a SOE.
Similarly, on Wednesday, two men were shot and killed while another man was left nursing gunshot wounds after a gunman attacked them in the rural St James community of Roehampton. The deceased has been identified as 23-year-old farmer Linston Anderson, otherwise called ''Blacks'' and 20-year-old Tavar Doeman, otherwise called ''Ravers''. Both men are from the community. The police report indicates that at about 10:30 pm the men were at a location in the community when they were attacked.
To compound the problem in the area, three men were killed around 10 o'clock Friday night, after men with guns attacked them at a business place. Two died on the spot, while the other died at hospital early Saturday.
St James is no stranger to double murders, as both the Mount Salem and Dumfries communities were rocked with double killings during the month of May. Additionally, the bullet-riddled bodies of three men were found in the middle of a road in the Mount Zion community by residents. The police theorised that the men were lured to the area to be killed.
At the same time, statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) indicate that St James has recorded a 26 per cent decline in murders compared to the corresponding period in 2022. However, the parish is still responsible for the highest number of murders across all police divisions – 82 since the start of the year. It was against that background that Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the declaration of SOEs in St James on May 16 for a period of 14 days. The parishes of Hanover and Clarendon were also included, as Holness underscored the Government's commitment to safeguarding the lives of innocent citizens.
However, in acknowledging that there is a decrease in the reports of crime during the declared SOEs, Senator Bunting told the Sunday Observer that crime in St James requires more than a periodical 14-day increase in manpower.
"There is a certain randomness in how violent crime spikes. Often a single murder can be the catalyst for a cycle of reprisal and counter-reprisal that can quickly escalate to multiple murders. It often only takes a couple of these to trigger a spike in violent crime in a police division. This is what happened in St James," said the Opposition spokesman.
"It is not the SOE nor the ZOSO that is especially effective at addressing the violence. It is the saturation policing that usually accompanies the declaration of an SOE or ZOSO," he added.
With just over 12,000 police personnel across the island, Senator Bunting explained that fighting crime in St James requires more boots on the ground and targeted social intervention programmes in at-risk communities. The Opposition spokesman pointed out that, over the last decade, crime in St James has been greatly influenced by the emergence of lottery scamming.
This, he told the Sunday Observer, should be heavily taken into consideration.
"Nationally, the best thing that can be done is a sustained increase in recruiting, training, and deploying more police personnel. This should be accompanied by funding of trained violence interrupters through the [Peace Management Initiative] PMI, and more social investment in [the] inner-city and informal communities," Bunting said.
He continued, "For St James, a re-invigoration of the Lottery Scam Task Force is needed, since the money from scamming fuels purchases of guns, and disputes in sharing scamming proceeds often generate violence."
Senator Bunting further advised that previous plans which were being put into motion while he was at the wheel of the national security portfolio should also be considered in the fight against crime in the parish. He explained that a team of Mobile Reserve, now Specialised Operations, was being considered to specifically target rural communities that are volatile.
"From I was minister of national security, we had plans to establish a Mobile Reserve West in Montpelier. This would have placed a couple hundred additional police personnel within an hour, at most, of St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland, which generate a disproportionate number of murders and shootings. This needs to happen," Bunting said.