Regional

Crime in St Elizabeth worries councillors

But words from the police: Don't panic

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large South Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Up to last Thursday, November 8, there were 18 murders in St Elizabeth this year compared to 24 for the similar period last year.

But while councillors at the monthly meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation were encouraged by those stats, a surge in shootings, robberies and break-ins provided fodder for intense discussion which lasted well in excess of an hour.

Shooting incidents which have led to at least five deaths over recent weeks in Vineyard, Junction, Pepper and Bogue, have been particularly disconcerting for people in St Elizabeth. The last such incident at Bogue in the parish's north-east occurred early last week, when 35-year-old Mauri Campbell was shot dead as he sought to flee a house which had been set ablaze.

“What is happening in the parish is nerve-racking … I am personally more than concerned,” said Everton Fisher (PNP), councillor for the Balaclava Division. Fisher is a former mayor of Black River and former chairman of the council.

Deputy Superintendent Leroy Minott, who delivered the monthly police report to the council, urged calm, declaring that this was “no time to panic”. Instead, he said, local political representatives and their constituents should step up their cooperation and “partnership” with police. This was especially important because of what he said was the growing trend for migrant criminals to move to St Elizabeth from areas where they were under pressure because of states of emergency and zones of special operations.

“More and more we are seeing evidence of external criminals in our space… working with locals a lot of times… there has to be a partnership (between police and law-abiding citizens), we have to strike that partnership,” he said.

Citizens should be prepared to share information and concerns with the police, he said. Minott pointed to recent arrests relating to robberies and other crimes including murder as evidence that the police were vigilant and alert to the dangers. Gun seizures had also increased this year compared to the similar period last year reflecting police vigilance, he said.

But while commending Minott for his “consultative” approach to crime-fighting, Fisher wondered if, as a whole, the St Elizabeth police were as diligent as they should be.

To illustrate his argument, Fisher spoke of what he said was a well known cocaine base at the “heart of Santa Cruz” which continued to operate with seemingly no intervention from the police. The former council chairman appeared to suggest that instead of tackling such major crimes, police often seemed far more interested in traffic infractions.

“I believe the police can be more proactive in stemming some of these crimes,” said Fisher. “I have spoken about Santa Cruz for about 15 years now… there is an area in Santa Cruz that is a well known area that sells coke in the heart of Santa Cruz. The police should be able, with any level of intelligence for all these number of years, they should be able to tackle it and is like it doesn't matter to them,” he complained.

But Minott reminded the council that the police needed proof before action could be taken against individuals.

“Coke is one of the hardest things to find. It is not something you can smell when you go inside there… A coke-head is not telling you, even when he says he has kicked the (cocaine) habit, he is not telling you, he will never tell you, when you ask him where he used to buy coke, he is not telling you,” said Minott.

As regards “road policing”, Minott said the presence of police patrols and spot checks constituted a crucial element in the anti-crime fight, since criminals were constantly on the move. Councillors shouldn't make the mistake of believing that police on traffic duty were only about “issuing tickets”, he said.

Councillor Cetany Holness (JLP), Junction Division, reiterated previous appeals for the courts to do their due diligence before accused people out on bail are allowed to take up residence in St Elizabeth.

Police have regularly complained that some accused people often mislead judges into believing they have roots in St Elizabeth and on that basis they are allowed to take up residence in this south-central parish while on bail.

“Accused from time to time tell the courts that they have family members in the parish (St Elizabeth) and the necessary due diligence is not done to ascertain such. These people come into the parish and just go rent a house,” said Holness.

He seemed to suggest that a recent shooting in Junction, which left one person dead, had flowed from just such a scenario.

Holness criticised local media representatives, whom he described as “senior journalists” for what he said was their failure to report previous “passionate” complaints he had made about the issue at council meetings. It was important, he said, that the message reach judges and officers of the court in order to help reduce the flow of dangerous criminals to St Elizabeth.

And while supporting Minott's emphasis on the importance of partnership between police and citizens, Holness suggested that in some cases the police were their own worst enemy.

He related what he said was a recent incident in Junction involving a call to police regarding “three strange men” on a school compound.

Holness said the men were asking teachers for directions. “If you are asking for directions that simply mean you don't know the area,” said Holness.

But according to the councillor, when school leaders called the police station, their report was discounted, with police asking how teachers knew the men were strangers. In another instance, he said a case of indecent assault on a young female student at school was treated as a minor matter by police even though the child's parents made a formal report.

Councillor Withney Smith (JLP) of the Brompton Division complained of an increase in incidents of armed robbery in Middle Quarters, causing fear in the community. A surprised Minott wondered if the incidents had been reported by the victims since he was unaware.

Layton Smith (PNP), councillor for Myersville called for more effort by the police to find guns in the southern belt of the parish. He too complained about strangers — whose means of livelihood was unclear — renting apartments in his division.

Audie Myers (PNP), councillor for the Siloah Division, felt the police needed to assertively make their objections known when dangerous criminals are given bail. Some had committed murder, leaving children to suffer, he said. As far as he was concerned such people should stay in jail and “nyam soso cornmeal”.

Dwight Salmon (PNP), Black River Division said while the leadership of the constabulary was reluctant to discuss the issue, it was obvious that a lack of resources and low wages for police personnel were major stumbling blocks in fighting crime.

“I realise there are police who suppose to reach work and can't reach work because dem nuh have no money … police suppose to carry out certain duties and when you call them they can't move because dem nuh have no vehicle … if we are going to fight crime in as serious way, then I believe this Government along with successive governments should put the police first and (they) should be at the top of the pay-roll…,” said Salmon.

Richard Solomon (JLP), New Market Division, called for greater attention to children as a long-term measure as the society combats crime. All too often, he said, society was guilty of putting the “cart before the horse” since sufficient attention was not being paid to bringing up children properly. Pointing to cases where school children were on the road loitering, getting up to “all manner of evil” Solomon said parents should be held accountable for negligence.

Minott agreed, noting that increasingly police were having to deal with children's issues while being distracted from their core functions.

“It really is a challenge, partnership has to be the way to go,” Minott said.

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