Extortionists in uniform

An increase in reports featuring high school students who will mob and beat their peers if their demands for money are not met has caught the attention of the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigations Branch (C-TOC).

Director of C-TOC’s National Strategic Anti-gang Unit, Deputy Superintendent (DSP) of Police Susan Bruce, says an “upsurge” in extortion activities on several campuses across the Corporate Area in recent times will see the entity honing in on those institutions in observance of Anti-Gang Week in Schools.

“We observe that there is a proliferation of weaponry, cutting implements, and there is an upsurge in the demand for money,” the deputy superintendent of police told the Jamaica
Observer on Monday, when asked about trends seen by the unit.

She said while extortion “has always been something we have to contend with, in recent times it has been brought to the fore, where the higher grade students are demanding money, by menace, of the lower grade students”.

She said this demand for money involves sums as small as $100, but the end result is “they have to pay”.

“The demand is made and if you refuse, then violence is brought to bear on you,” she told the Observer. According to DSP Bruce, the reports of such deviant activities are heavily concentrated in schools in the Area Four Division of the Corporate Area, hence the decision to focus on those institutions. The schools, which the Observer has taken the decision not to name, are located in communities known for gang violence.

In the meantime, investigators two weeks ago took their first case to court involving a minor charged for extortion under the Larceny Act from a school in Kingston Western. According to DSP Bruce, while there have been a number of extortion incidents in schools, they were not being dealt with as a criminal act because there was doubt surrounding the particular statute under which those acts could be charged. She, however, pointed out that not all cases will make it to the courts because of interventions on the ground.

Area Four — which comprises St Andrew South, St Andrew Central, Kingston West, Kingston East, and Kingston Central — accounts for more than 50 per cent of the gangs in Jamaica.

Speaking at the launch service for the week of activities on Sunday, DSP Bruce said data from the Annual National Intelligence Assessment show that 277 active gangs were recorded in 2022 here. She said the figure represents a slight increase of 2.97 per cent over 2021 when 261 active gangs were then identified. DSP Bruce said while the exact numbers of school-based gangs remain unidentified, the police recognise that these factions have roots in many communities, putting students at risk.

In the meantime, DSP Stacey-Ann Waldron-Lee, speaking also on Sunday, said, “Daily reports of extortion, gang-related activities, bullying, wounding are common in schools, which leave many members of the school community in fear”.

Minister of Education Fayval Williams, in delivering remarks, said, “We recently published a report called the National Perception of School Safety and Security 2023…and it highlighted the importance that students, parents, and teachers place on having a sense of security, not only on school campuses but on the roadways as people commute.”

“When I read that report I was shocked to know that our girls and boys, many of them are afraid to travel on our roads to and from school. Isn’t that a scandal? Our girls are being preyed on, so too are our boys. Jamaica, we have to get back to that place where the village is involved in raising their child and everyone is looking out for our children regardless of whether or not you know whose child it is,” the education minister said to applause.

Anti-Gang Week in Schools will culminate on November 11. It is being observed under the theme, ‘Gang Nuh Cool Stay in School’.