FEARS of a spike in crime over the festive season have influenced Government’s decision to follow the advice of the security forces and impose states of public emergency (SOEs) in St Catherine, Clarendon, Kingston, sections of St Andrew, St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the SOEs during a media briefing on Tuesday and declared that this was being done because of perceived threats to public order in these parishes.
“The Government, after careful consideration of the [recommendation] of the security chiefs, decided to advise the governor general that it was necessary…to declare states of public emergency in these areas. We have seen an increase in criminal activities in these areas, and indeed a threat to property and, in some instances, public disorder,” said Holness.
“It is important to note that we are also approaching the Christmas season, and this will require the deployment of even greater resources, sometimes resources that our security forces do not have, and therefore the Government has to act… in such a way to maximise the resource that we have to save lives and property,” said Holness, as he pointed out that Jamaica has seen an increase in murders in the past six months.
Responding to questions from the Jamaica Observer, the prime minister accepted that the SOEs will come to an end by November 29, unless they are supported by the Opposition People’s National Party in Parliament, and reiterated his earlier claim that some members of the Opposition had indicated that they would welcome the measure in their constituencies.
But he argued that even if the SOEs are not continued into the festive period the impact from their imposition on Tuesday should spill over into the Christmas period.
“Any impact on disrupting gangs and taking guns out of the hands of gunmen and criminals, any impact on disrupting criminal networks, any impact on diverting young people from crime and deviant action, will not only have an immediate impact during the period of the establishment of the states of public emergency, but it will [also] have a long-lasting impact.
“… So we expect that we will see that once we have implemented a state of public emergency there is a residual effect, so we have to expect that even over the 14 days it will have an impact on murder rates, impact on public order, and an impact the recovery of guns and a positive… heading into the Christmas season,” said Holness.
At the same time, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson justified the security forces’ decision to request the SOEs as he argued that there is an urgency to “what we do as a society, and there is no place for reticence” in using every tool at Jamaica’s collective disposal to stop the bloodletting.
Anderson pointed out that, as at last Sunday, 1,360 murders had been recorded across the island — an increase of 6.8 per cent over the same period last year.
Of that figure, collectively, the 10 divisions in which the SOEs have been implemented account for 72 per cent of the murders and 75 per cent of shootings in the country.
“And it is against this backdrop and in this context that, in consultation with the chief of defence staff, that we requested the use of emergency powers under a limited state of public emergency in the named parishes and police divisions,” said the police chief.
He pointed out that in previous SOEs significant declines in violent crimes were recorded in those communities.
“When the emergency powers were first brought into effect, St James recorded reductions of 70 per cent in murders, while St Catherine recorded reductions of 61 per cent. As the powers became more widely used in other parishes and police divisions, the people living in these communities welcomed similar reductions of an average of 40 per cent,” said Anderson.