Sunday's brazen attack by gunmen on a Beryllium security team in Portmore, St Catherine, has triggered a call by the association representing workers in the industry, for security companies to be given licences allowing courier guards to carry automatic assault rifles.
According to president of the Jamaica Association for Private Security, Teddylee Gray, the law allows guards to carry pistols and hunting-type rifles but not automatic assault rifles,
Three Beryllium security guards were shot Sunday while in the process of servicing an automated teller machine at Scotiabank in Braeton Parkway. The criminals reportedly made off with more $20 million.
The attack came just under a month after gunmen, on February 27, staged a similarly bloody assault on a team from Beryllium while they were servicing an ATM at Portmore Pines Plaza.
The gunmen, who were armed with high-powered weapons, shot one of the guards to death and injured another, before making off with approximately $10 million.
"The criminals are very desperate right now. They used to make money other ways but now they see the couriers with cash in transit as a way to make their money. You used to hear about these incidents in the past, but it used to happen once in a while. Obviously, this situation is now a trend," said Gray.
"We need better weapons. We have written to the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), and also to the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security to lobby the FLA to give them authority to at least have certain types of weapons. We haven't gotten any response. The tall guns that we currently have are hunting guns and good for close range," Gray highlighted.
But a well-placed source within the FLA told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that what Gray is requesting is something that should be taken up with the Ministry of National Security.
"That is a policy move, and not an FLA decision. The legislation doesn't allow for that. If they want to have the legislation changed, that is a national security matter," the source said.
According to Gray, the types of weapons that cash couriers are authorised to carry can hardly defend them against well-equipped gunmen.
"It cannot defend you, it is too tall," he said of the shotguns carried by security couriers. "I think we should have automatic assault rifles to defend ourselves properly.
"Another problem is the level of protection of armoured vehicles. I think it should be a level-three-type shield for these vehicles to protect against even M16 bullets. It should be the same for bulletproof vests and helmets — a level-three protection. With a level-one, the M16 bullets will fly through that, but at least the level-three will assist you in regards to that," he argued.
"In the past they used to have even six or five men on the armoured truck, but now they try to cut it down to three and four. They say the vehicles are bulletproof, but obviously it is not bulletproof enough. They are saying that the trucks are expensive and some of them cause fires. They need the type of trucks where they can point rifles out," he suggested.
"With these buses they are using, they don't have that option. We believe they should go back to the Brinks-type trucks. Some companies are using even Toyota Probox to pick up money — that has no form of protection. Companies should step up in regards to the protection level in the industry. There is a thing called anti-robber smoke device, like a dye pack, they can use. The robbers would say it doesn't make sense because the money would be destroyed. We cannot be reactive all of the time. We need to be proactive by having better defence," Gray insisted.
George Overton, director of the Guardsman Group of companies which includes Beryllium, said that not even the best of planning could have prevented what unfolded on Sunday about 12:40 pm.
Overton said it was clear that the attack was carried out by vicious and brutal men with a tactical level of precision, and that they used a similar methodology to that employed with those men in the February attack in Portmore Pines.
"Their objective was clear and they were prepared. We have to step up how we mitigate against increased violence on our operations that put our men at risk," he said.
Cops are probing to determine if Sunday's incident has any connection to the one in February. Senior Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay said on Monday that the investigation is wide and nothing can be ruled out at this time.
Senior Superintendent Christopher Phillips, the commanding officer of the St Catherine South Police Division, said there was a plan to adjust patrolling strategies.
"We have started to put things in place in terms of patrols; we are going to be making adjustments to our patrol zone and focus especially on the business community. These two incidents — and we are tracking the one in Spanish Town — these are of concern to us," Phillips said.