MONTEGO BAY, St James – Since the passage of the new Firearms Act, which provides penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment for possession of illegal weapons, cops in the Area One Division have experienced an increase in violent confrontations with gunmen, according to Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Clifford Chambers.
The eyebrow raising revelation came as Chambers responded to a query about the number of arrests made since the Firearm (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022 took effect last November.
Chambers said he was not immediately in possession of data to comment on arrest and charges for various firearm offences since the law came into effect.
"As it relates to more arrests for the comparative period since the Bill came into effect, I would have to look at them a little more to be more precise in that response. What we have observed though, is that there are more confrontations with police since the Bill has taken effect. We are surmising it might have to do with that they think they might have a better chance challenging the police than to be charged for the gun possession because there're looking at a minimum of 15 years. So they might think it is better to challenge the police," ACP Chambers told the Observer West.
However, he was quick to warn gunslingers who choose to engage members of the security forces that the odds are heavily stacked against them.
"We have to reassure the public that taking on the police or the military, we guarantee you that we will come out the victors. So even though there are more confrontations, we want to encourage persons not to," he said.
Meanwhile, Chambers — whose division covers the parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, and Trelawny — said that as at Monday, March 20, the St James police seized 103 illegal firearms since the start of the year, the most across the island's 19 police divisions.
He said that among the factors for the success is the relationship between the police and Jamaica Customs.
Five rifles were among 59 firearms seized at Freeport in Montego Bay, St James, on Friday, February 3.
At the time, Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey said an intelligence-driven operation involving the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Jamaica Customs and international partners led to the massive gun haul.
It was the second major gun bust in Montego Bay in a week, following the seizure of a shipment of 22 firearms at the Seaboard Warehouse the previous Friday.
"To be frank, we get the biggest thrust with the Border Security Initiative, which is the work relations that we have with Jamaica Customs and the join-up work relationship that we have with them. So if there's a suspicious container, they would isolate it, and then the stripping and the search will be done with our our presence," ACP Chambers said.
"But quite frankly, outside of that, St James has consistently been the division with the highest number of gun recoveries. So even outside of what we recover on the wharf and the port, we are leaps and bounds ahead of the other divisions," he added.
He attributed the prevalence of guns in St James to "a combination of factors, including the lottery scam".
"One is the large amount of money that is moving around in the Montego Bay space, mainly through the lottery scamming. And so, when persons have that money the next thing they do is to acquire a gun, whether to protect themselves or for the gangs that are protecting them, or also to see how best they can finance the gang — based on where they live — that is in conflict with other gangs," he said.
"And a lot of them also give protection money to the gangsters. [And] once the gangsters have money, they're going to acquire guns because the gun is the tool of their trade," he argued.
However, ACP Chambers said that the police will not relent in their duty, pointing out that they have staged consistent search operations in Montego Bay, Mount Salem, and Norwood.
He said they have a special tactical operational team working in Area One which provides good and strong support.
"We also have a very excellent working relationship with the military, unlike anywhere else. So it's a combination of all those factors," he said.