Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang has linked the continuing bloodletting in sections of St James to educated, well-funded, and heavily armed gangsters in the parish, but he remains convinced that the security forces are prepared to take on and defeat the criminals.
Up to Tuesday, St James had recorded 76 murders since the start of this year, a shade below the 79 recorded in the St Andrew South Police Division, which is the deadliest of the 19 police divisions across the island.
But St James has recorded a 65 per cent increase in murders since January this year, compared to the same time last year, while St Andrew South is just five per cent above the same period last year.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, Chang underscored that dealing with crime in St James is a major issue.
“St James fighting is inter-gang and inter-personal, and the difference between St James and the Corporate Area gangs is that [those in St James] are better resourced — unlike Kingston, which tends to be more like on-the-ground turf conflict, such as extortion and control of the market space… where the police presence is enough to take control, and that has happened. In fact, the Corporate Area [murder rate] is quite stable and is trending down,” said Chang.
“We have had some flare-up in central Kingston (31 murders so far this year, up from 24 for the same time last year) but again, police operations will get that under control,” declared Chang.
He admitted that the police operations have not been as successful in St James, despite effective leadership, because the gangsters tend to be well-organised and have access to funding.
“They are quite smart, and they organise in networks so the police presence is not enough to apprehend anybody. Secondly, they have resources, so by the time police get there they drive away to somewhere else and wait until the person moves, and they target people who they are in conflict with,” Chang said.
“It is not like they are fighting over a corner where they sell drugs; they are really about conflicts from disputes in their own economy. So if a man steals somebody's firearm or they steal his money… they shoot him and then they shoot his friend, and the response is to shoot who shot my friend and it becomes a retaliatory activity.
“Because they have the resources it becomes a challenge for the police,” the minister said, even as he commended the cops, arguing that had it not been for their intervention the murder toll in the parish would have been higher.
St James has been the epicentre of the lucrative lottery scam in recent years with several “scammers” using their ill-gotten gains to purchase high-end vehicles, properties and guns, Chang told the Observer.
However, he said the additional equipment and resources allocated to the police in the past few years have given them a better chance to fight the gangsters, but more needs to be done.
“There has been improvement for the police, but even that is not enough. I think there needs to be more of a community response,” added Chang as he pointed to the actions which need to be taken to reduce the lure of gangs for young boys in St James.
These, he said, include improved education and employment opportunities, as well as basic services which the State must provide.