THE police are preparing to use the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to go after criminals who are raking in millions of dollars through the sale of stolen telecommunications cable, and other equipment.
According to Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, the police have seen, in some instances, a link between the theft of the telecommunications infrastructure and organised crime.
"We, too, want to see that when these acts are done and the perpetrators are held, they must account, and account in a significant way. Our organised crime branch is very involved in the investigation of these matters and you can expect to see more use of the Proceeds of Crime Act in these instances. We are seeing where a lot of the money comes from this very lucrative [illegal] industry," Lindsay said during a media briefing on Thursday at which Flow Jamaica Vice-President and General Manager Stephen Price argued that the small fines and short prison terms handed out to people convicted of theft of telecommunications equipment were not a deterrent.
Describing the theft of telecommunications equipment as "domestic terrorism", Price noted that 12,340 residential customers and more than 1,100 business customers have lost service since January 2021 because of the theft of telecommunications equipment with several critical services impacted.
He charged that, at present, the punishment does not fit the serious nature of the crime.
"It is time for stiffer fines and longer penalties. Terrorism must be paid with the kind of fines and the kinds of jail terms that is necessary," declared Price as he pointed to a case in January in which a man was sentenced to one year's probation, 120 hours community service, and training in decision-making and substance abuse after he was found guilty of stealing cell site batteries valued at $740,000. He was later found to have again stolen cell site batteries.
In another case two men were fined $43,250 each or 15 days in prison after they were found with stolen Flow copper cables.
Price noted that the vandalism of Flow's sites, poles, batteries, fibre and copper falls under the Malicious Injuries to Property Act and could attract sentences of not more than three months in some instances and, up to 2019, a fine of $4,000. This has since been increased to a maximum of $250,000.
"These are things that we need to address. Any vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure should be protected under specific legislation. The penalties under the legislation really have to be set at such levels that they act as instant deterrents to anyone who contemplates such offences," he said.
"Right now, a criminal can make a business case and say, 'Well, I pay a $250,000 fine but mi gone back into the business again.' An act of vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure could be prosecuted under the Terrorism Prevention Act. The penalty for this offence is life imprisonment, and it is that serious," added Price.
Senior Superintendent Lindsay, who heads the Constabulary Communications Unit, did not comment on the proposal to prosecute people who steal telecommunications equipment under the Terrorism Prevention Act, but she made it clear that this is a crime the police are treating seriously.
"The Jamaica Constabulary Force is fully committed to working with Flow and the other providers who are affected by these acts of criminality," declared Lindsay as she underscored the importance of telecommunications to Jamaica's security.