SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — With Westmoreland bleeding from a string of murders, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang on Thursday laid the blame at the feet of 32 alleged gang members who are out on bail. He also expressed concern that light sentences embolden convicted criminals.
"There are not only several known criminals on the road right now who are out on bail killing people, [but] there are others who have been to jail, found guilty. After the police investigate, prosecute and charge they are found guilty and they are out very soon. In fact, they are now prepared to kill more because they now feel that they can go through the system and have no fear of apprehension or prosecution. And there are several of those around," he said.
Dr Chang was speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Frome Police Station in Westmoreland.
During a later media briefing, the security minister referenced a particularly troubling case.
"A particular individual became famous for making eight bail applications, could have been [facing] six or seven charges for murders. One of his bail guarantors was killed at one stage. On this occasion, he's still behind bars… This is a reflection of some of the problems we have," he said.
The security minister pointed to the proposed Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act as a solution. There have been concerns raised about some aspects of the legislation. However, Dr Chang said he firmly believes the Act is an appropriate response to what now obtains in the country.
The Act is expected to be passed in the Upper House on Friday, after which it will go to the governor general for his proclamation.
"If you're carrying an illegal firearm, we know it is part of your intention to kill somebody and we are gonna take you off the streets and therefore we have instituted some severe penalties," the security minister said during Thursday's ground-breaking ceremony.
"We are doing this deliberately because we not only want to send the message but we want to send it correctly. When the officers who work hard, long hours, put themselves at risk and find a criminal killer with guns, he will be in jail, locked away in the State's care for some time and the police officer can get on with his work," Dr Chang said.
He said the Act will be approved and as soon as it is green-lighted it will be implemented.
"As soon as it is approved in the Senate, I will announce the appointed day and the police will have a new tool to operate; a tool that we think will be effective in dealing with all the criminal activity. And when they do it, it will have an impact on the crime," he promised.
Turning his attention to the professionalism of the police force, the minister noted improved behaviour, compared to previous complaints of extra-judicial killings. However, he urged lawmen to shoot to kill if they come under attack from gunmen.
"We have had fatal shootings because men shoot guns after them. I am not telling any policeman to fire back. As I said here in Westmoreland, I am not sending any ambulances out there either. Anytime a man takes up a gun after a police, I expect the commissioner to train them, when he fires he must not miss. I don't want him [the gunman] to come and give any trouble at the hospital or anywhere," he said.
The parish of Westmoreland has a reputation as a hotbed of crime which stems from gang and Lotto scamming activities.
Since the start of the year, it has recorded 107 murders, 49 of which have been cleared up.
Since the start of the week, three murders were committed in the parish.
According to the constabulary's communications unit, the most recent took place on Monday with the killing of Dudley Levy of Dalling Street, Savanna-la-Mar. The day before 28-year-old Andre Brown, a cabinet maker of New Hope District, Little London, was shot and killed.