Police commissioner laments light sentences for serious crimesThursday, September 16, 2021
BY JASON CROSS
Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson has called for a conversation to be had about possibly giving Jamaica's laws more teeth to discourage reoffenders and potential offenders, as he lamented what he called light sentences given to convicted criminals in gun, drugs and other serious crimes.
During a virtual Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) press conference yesterday afternoon, Anderson, who insisted he was not pointing fingers at judges or the justice system, said the consequences for serious crimes in many cases do not match the crimes. He noted that since the start of the year there have been at least 16 cases of illegal possession of firearm, in which the offenders who were found guilty received a suspended sentence or fined.
The commissioner also referenced a multimillion-dollar cocaine bust in which the people convicted were only asked to pay fines.
At the same time, he pointed out that out of the roughly 1,000 people released from prison each year, between 430 to 480 of them became reoffenders within two and a half years.
“In an environment where 92 per cent of our people killed last week were killed with a gun, it cannot be adequate. When I review 16 cases from the beginning of the year and in none of those cases of illegal possession were the persons required to go to jail. It was either a fine, a suspended sentence or probation. This is real and I am not blaming anyone but it is just how our system works and the reason it hasn't been effective in deterring is because it doesn't deter.”
Pointing to a case involving three women – two from Westmoreland and the other from St Elizabeth – Anderson said they were robbed and wounded, but still managed to help investigators build a strong case. On top of that, he said they went to court and testified, only to see the perpetrators walking around the following day after being convicted.
“The very next day after these persons were convicted, those perpetrators are walking past the same women in the community. Something is wrong and I have a problem with that. That is not a nice process. You have to keep reliving and talking about the thing that impacted you. What about that is going to deter that criminal from offending or give these women confidence that the State is fair and just. These people I am talking about are people who were convicted,” the commissioner stressed.
He continued: “Young men are choosing to walk up and down with guns because they know that if they catch them with the gun, they are going to be fined or face such a short sentence that by the time you look around, they are back on the road. The system allows for this. I am not commenting on any judge's outcome in any particular case. We are all to blame, but the officers here do more than people give them credit for”.
Anderson also referenced a drug trafficking case that he was perturbed about, in which the convicts were only asked to pay fines in local currency.
“Our guns come here through funding from the trafficking of drugs. We reviewed our situation with cocaine trafficking and when I saw that persons who are convicted of cocaine trafficking, of possession and of dealing in cocaine that has a street value of up to US$10 million are fined J$500, 000 and J$1 million as the consequence of trafficking cocaine through this country, then there is no wonder that it persists.
“That (option) shouldn't even be available. These are convicts and this is not one case. How does this happen? There is work to be done. If the work is not done, this will persist and the money will be there to buy the guns and the guns will be there to kill the people.”
Up Monday morning, there were 991 murders across the island, which Anderson said was a 10 1/2 per cent increase over last year. He said there was a 1.7 per cent increase in shootings over last year as well. Of the 991 murder, the commissioner said 714 of them or 72 per cent were directly attributed to gang conflicts. Interpersonal and domestic violence accounted for 189 murders. A big chunk of murders – 843 or 85 per cent of the 991 – occurred with the use of firearms.
“What we are seeing as a feature of these conflicts, is that gangsters are more willing now; if they can't get the persons they are after to go after the family and associates of these gangsters and go after all of them collectively, particularly in the lower part of St Andrew, Kingston and Clarendon, and more recently Westmoreland and earlier in the year in St James.”