It’s action time, says new St Elizabeth police chief

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Insisting she is about “action”, not “pretty talk”, new head of the St Elizabeth police, Deputy Superintendent Narda Simms has pledged to mix good communication, partnerships, and sound tactics in the drive to maintain law and order here.

In a spirited presentation to the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation at its monthly meeting recently, Simms made it clear that while she would have a no-nonsense approach to fighting crime, she would not be relying solely on hard policing.

“I happen to be a very young superintendent,” said Simms, but “experience of 20 years and over has taught me that you cannot always go with hard policing. You must mix the strategies.”

Her approach includes getting the word out to people as to what is expected of them, in partnership with the police, to combat crime and keep order, she said.

“It is my belief that without the message and the communication we going to fail,” said Simms.

“The message must first be sent…and the message must be sent over and over, so that everybody understand… Law enforcement happens to be a partnership…” she said.

Her comments came in response to suggestions by former mayor of Black River and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor for the Pedro Plains Division, Jeremy Palmer , that police often appeared to be leaning backwards to accommodate wrongdoers.

Palmer voiced impatience with talk that police should be dialoguing and holding “conversations” with those such as transport operators who were consistently “breaking the law”. Such tolerance for “law breakers”, had led to chaos and disorder in town centres and made life easier for criminals who had carried out armed robberies amounting to millions of dollars in places like Santa Cruz in recent months, Palmer said.

“I listen to how many times you use the word conversation and dialogue, and I am saying that is what is wrong with law enforcement in Jamaica, police want to dialogue with the lawbreakers, we want to get consensus. That’s not how law works,” Palmer told Simms.

He lamented that even violent criminals in the inner-city communities of Jamaica’s urban centres were being facilitated by those who seemed inclined to negotiate with them, rather than enforce the law.

“As far as the law is concerned…I [law enforcer] am not supposed to come out there and ask you, ‘Please obey the law.’ That is what has gone wrong in Jamaica. We are dialoguing with everybody, even murderers in communities…We gone to August Town, or wherever, sitting down with these people, we don’t even know who they are, we don’t even know who in the audience. They may be killers…” he said.

“What we want is for order to be restored in the society. Order!” said Palmer.

However, a combative Simms appeared to suggest that while maintaining public order was a big challenge in Santa Cruz and elsewhere, local authorities, by their actions, at times contribute to disorder.

“I passed the Santa Cruz area and I saw a lady [vendor] hanging her clothes outside on a fence, but she has a licence (to operate there),” Simms told councillors.

“Now the police didn’t give her a licence but we must police…” Simms said.

Municipal corporations provide permits for vendors in their areas of authority.

Simms argued that in such circumstances, the job of police personnel became even more difficult.

“If the watchman seeth the danger and call it not out, we fail,” she said.

Palmer argued that use of the “carrot” in policing must be accompanied by a “stick”. Law enforcers should “walk softly with a big stick”, he said.

Simms, formerly of the National Police College, took command of the St Elizabeth Police Division on June 1, replacing Superintendent Samuel Morgan, who had led the St Elizabeth police since July of last year.

The change of leadership followed an upsurge in armed robberies in St Elizabeth in recent months, more particularly in Santa Cruz, which is the main commercial centre.

Simms told the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that as part of her immediate operational strategies, there was a more tactical and increased deployment of police personnel.

She claimed a “renergised” policing system in St Elizabeth had led to the apprehension of a man believed to be responsible for over $10 million in robberies in Santa Cruz.

“This was not a coincidence. It is because we have renergised the system that is there,” she told councillors and support staff at the municipal monthly meeting.

“We haven’t changed police officers, we have done nothing different than renergise the men and women out there and refocus them. Whilst that particular suspect is behind bars we are not relaxing, we are moving forward and at the end of the day I want all of us to know the policing system is still operating, still effective,” she said.

Simms later told journalists that while the suspect had been formally charged “on two counts”, his identity was being withheld pending further investigations and identification parades relating to crimes, not just in Santa Cruz, but the wider St Elizabeth.

Several councillors told the municipal meeting they had detected changes for the better since the arrival of the new divisional head.

Councillor for the Brompton Division, Withney Smith (JLP) rose to applaud and thank the police for what she said had been fast, proactive action which had led to the recovery of goats stolen from a farmer in her division.

Cetany Holness (JLP), councillor for the Junction Division applauded Simms for early results, declaring that the streets of Junction were suddenly free of illegally parked taxi men and vendors, who were clogging the streets and sidewalks.

Donovan Pagon, Peoples National Party (PNP) councillor for Brae’s River, told Simms he had a hunch she would do well. “I like your style,” Pagon declared.

Much discussion focused on the “disorderly” transport sector with Simms pledging to pay special attention to the three major St Elizabeth towns – Santa Cruz, Junction, and the political capital Black River.

Palmer drew attention to an illegal transport centre, across the road from the National Commercial Bank branch in Santa Cruz, which had been closed down a few years ago but was resurfacing as a location for taxi operators to park and pick up passengers.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. You have to be constantly vigilant to ensure people don’t reoccupy the space…” Palmer told the new police chief.

Palmer questioned the efficiency of police operations down the years, given the ease with which criminals often seemed to strike and then escape.

“Police should not at this stage be taken by surprise in Junction, Santa Cruz, or Black River. This is a recording that has repeated itself over and over again. Where are the precautions, where is the alertness within these towns?” said Palmer.

“Santa Cruz is a small place, these robberies are taking place along one little corridor, and the exit route out of that corridor is limited, quite limited, so what is the issue? Why is it these people can do these things and get away with it? Why is it that the police are taken by surprise so often?” he asked.

Councillor Christopher Williams (JLP) Santa Cruz Division urged “consistency” in police operations and warned against “complacency”, which he said could result from a lull in criminal activity.

Former mayor of Black River and councillor for the Balaclava Division, Everton Fisher (PNP), recommended that as part of police strategies going forward, there could be more emphasis on “covert policing” since criminals appeared to be watching the movement of the security forces and acting accordingly.

Fisher also wondered about continuity of police strategies, given what, he believed were ill-advised, frequent changes in police leadership in St Elizabeth.

Simms, who disclosed her cellphone number to the meeting, said she would be depending on councillors to be a source of support during her time in St Elizabeth.

“It makes no sense for us all to say that the police doing nothing, but we ourselves have not held ourselves responsible for our neck of the woods. I want to implore you to provide the police with support we require to get the job done. Let us go for the St Elizabeth of yesteryear, but it must be a partnership. I am depending on each and every one of you here as we reassert St Elizabeth as a place to live, work, and do business,” she said.

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