‘Now I can go to work without having to worry’

MONTEGO BAY, St James — “It’s like everybody get up and get crazy, the criminals that is,” said an obviously frustrated president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Oral Heaven.

He was telling the Jamaica Observer why he fully supports the Government’s decision to declare a state of public emergency (SOE) in St James and Hanover Tuesday morning.

“As a member of the business community, any means to get rid of the criminals, I would recommend the police to take that step… Anything they can use right now to curtail these killings, I recommend that they take that step,” Heaven added.

Despite a year-on-year 27 per cent drop in killings up to May 14, St James was still leading the country with 69 murders. During the last week and a half more than 15 people have been killed, with at least three double murders rocking the parish.

One resident of Crawford Street in Mount Salem, St James — which has recently had at least four murders — welcomed the SOE.

“We thankful for it man because right now the place set a way. I have to give thanks because now I can go to work without having to worry what’s going to happen next,” said the man who asked not to be identified by name.

In Hanover, there has been a 75 per cent increase in murders since the start of the year, the highest percentage jump of any police division across the country. The Hopewell community has played a big part in that increase.

Along with Clarendon, which has also had its share of bloodletting, the two western parishes are under SOEs for 14 days. During that time the security forces are expected to “conduct targeted operations aimed at disrupting criminal gangs and preventing serious crimes”.

As is usually the case when SOEs are declared, reactions from locally elected officials have been firmly along party lines.

“You have to partner with civil society in a meaningful way in order to help this thing because brute force and state of emergency will put a little bandaid on it for the moment but it’s not solving the core of the problem, which is evident why we are on this for six years now,” said Councillor Kerry Thomas (People’s National Party, Mount Salem Division).

“While we do not want to see any bloodletting in the parish [because] every life is important and not one life should be lost, going back to the state of emergency shows that we have not done the real policing work that is required and the real programmes that are necessary to put in place to curb it,” he told the Observer.

For Councillor Mark McGann (Jamaica Labour Party, Somerton Division), an SOE will help restore order to what he said is typically a peaceful community. Just last week there were three murders in the Canaan section of Dumfries (within Somerton), leaving residents tense and afraid.

“My little area is a farming and family oriented area so we need this type of lockdown for the 14 days so that we can bring the criminal elements to justice. I am in total support of it,” he said.

“It’s going to be a little bit challenging for some businesses and some movement but at this time it is necessary, based on what is happening. We can’t have, in such a small space, nearly 10 murders since the start of the year. It is unacceptable,” McGann insisted.

His colleague Councillor Devon Brown (JLP, Hopewell Division), who is urging the security forces to be even-handed in their approach, is also craving residents’ understanding during the SOE that will likely disrupt their daily routines.

“We don’t know who’s next so we have to try our best to ensure that the crime is brought down. Some measures have to be taken to prevent innocent people from losing their lives,” he said.

However, Craig Oates, who is seeking the nod to represent the People’s National Party in Hanover Eastern, believes a different approach is needed.

“The state of emergency is not working; we need better intelligence-gathering capabilities. Because we don’t have the proper intelligence-gathering, criminals are not afraid — plus the police are not given the right tools,” he told the Observer.

“In this day and age when technology run things the criminals are way ahead of the cops,” the former police officer lamented.

In addition, Oates said, Hopewell needs its own police station.

“The entire police system in Hanover needs to be revamped. Look at Hopewell — the biggest, fastest-growing community that doesn’t have a police station. We should have gotten a police post from when,” he lamented.

“Some police stations are not at the capacity to serve the communities where they are located so that is where the problem really is, and it’s not being solved,” said Oates.