New SOEs to fight potential formation of super gangs — Holness

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday declared two new states of public emergency (SOE) in the island, drawing immediate criticism from Opposition Member of Parliament and former Minister of National Security Peter Bunting that the measure is being overused and has failed to serve as a deterrent to crime.

SOEs were declared in the Kingston Central and Kingston Western police divisions where Holness said there have been increases in criminal activities since the second quarter of the year.

The SOEs will initially last for 14 days.

Holness, who was speaking at a virtual press conference from the Office of the Prime Minister in St Andrew, said the areas, if left unchecked, have shown historically that they can “spiral to chaotic ends and have national disruptive impact”.

The prime minister also added that gangs operating in these divisions are moving beyond traditional geographical boundaries and are no longer confining themselves to community locations, operations, and affiliations.

This, he told journalists, presents the possibility of the development of super gangs, and said that it could create a platform for the insemination of more nefarious and foreign criminal activity.

He said that there has also been an increase of extortion in these police divisions around the market district and the south coast highway improvement project.

“At the launch of this project I was clear that we will not allow criminals or politically connected persons to extort, hold up, or otherwise threaten the work in this area in any way. This is a national project and the Government will deal decisively with anyone who seeks to disrupt or otherwise interfere with the smooth operation of this road development project,” said Holness.

But yesterday, Bunting, who has since December 2018 voted against extensions of the SOEs, insisted that the prime minister has continued to gaslight the public with his frequent declarations and that the routine use of SOEs as a crime-fighting tool has been a success.

“In fact, that policy has been a colossal failure. After three successive years of the extensive use of SOEs, and the consequent huge expenditure of resources, the annual number of murders has been much higher in each of these SOE years than in any single year between 2011 to 2015 when there were no SOEs. And this [is] despite having had a capital budget for the Ministry of National Security that was up to 10 times greater than it had been during the 2011 to 2015 period,” Bunting told the Jamaica Observer.

He said since the coronavirus pandemic hit it seems that almost every country in the world has seen dramatic double-digit reductions in violent crime, except Jamaica.

These reductions, said Bunting, are predictable since the opportunities for crime are greatly reduced during a lockdown.

“However, in Jamaica, criminals have become so accustomed to curfews, cordons… and the general militarisation of policing that they have adapted and now operate virtually undeterred. Regrettably, the prime minister continues to believe that doubling down on a failed policy will yield better results. That is the definition of insanity,” Bunting argued.

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson, in the meantime, argued that SOEs are warranted. He maintained that the high level of violence in the two divisions is at a scale and nature that greatly endangers public safety.

The commissioner said murders and shootings in Kingston and St Andrew represent 42 per cent of the national figure and are characteristic of long-standing and deadly inter- and intra-gang conflicts.

Just under 600 murders have been recorded since the start of the year.

He said there are presently more than 70 gangs operating in both divisions and that 74 per cent of all murders in the divisions are attributed to gang activities.

“When we examine the broader picture, almost six months in 2020, we see signs of success in the implementation of our policing strategies. As of June 12 major crimes have declined by 14 per cent overall. Robberies are down 13 per cent; break-ins down 23 per cent; rape is down 29 per cent; and larceny has declined by 3 per cent.

“Notwithstanding this, we are seeing a much more coordinated attempt by criminal enterprises across Kingston and St Andrew to coordinate their activities and create a much more unified response to how they make their illegal gains from these commercial areas,” said Anderson.

He pointed to divisions with ongoing SOEs, noting that there has been a 64 per cent decrease in murders in the Kingston Eastern Police Division since the declaration of an SOE earlier this year. Shootings in that division have declined by 70 per cent, he added.

In St Catherine North, he said murders are down 14 per cent, while shootings are down by 24 per cent.

He admitted that the gains have been marginal in St Andrew South, where murders are down one per cent and shootings down 18 per cent.

In St James, he said the division has recorded the lowest number of murders and shootings in 20 years but did not give the figure.

Anderson said reductions in murders have also been recorded in Hanover and Westmoreland — 48 and 57 per cent respectively — when compared with similar periods before the imposition of SOEs. Shootings are down by 40 and 66 per cent respectively.

“So I’d just like to reiterate that the use of states of public emergency has never been intended to be an alternative to other policing strategies, but an addition to them, and so we still continue to do all of the other policing activities, and in particular activities directed towards capturing and convicting gang members,” said Anderson.

The boundaries of the newly announced SOEs are as follows:

To the west, the boundary extends from the coastline by the Petrojam oil refinery a north-easterly direction on to East Avenue then on to Maxfield Avenue to the intersection of Rousseau Road.

The northern boundary extends along Rousseau Road in an easterly direction from the intersection of Maxfield Avenue and Rousseau Road to its intersection with Lyndhurst Road and Retirement Road. The boundary then extends south-easterly along Lyndhurst Road to its intersection with Slipe Road and southerly along Slipe Road to the intersection of Torrington Road. It continues easterly along Torrington Road to Heroes’ Circle and continues along the northern perimeter of Heroes’ Circle to its intersection with Marescaux Road. The boundary then extends slightly north along Marescaux Road then easterly along Connolley Avenue then on to Dames Drive to the intersection with South Camp Road.

The eastern boundary extends in a southerly direction along South Camp Road then on to Port Royal Street to the coast.

The southern boundary extends westerly along the coastline of Kingston then along the St Andrew coastline to the starting point at the Petrojam refinery.

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