PM: Lack of Opposition support hurting crime fight in St James

THE Government has rejected a claim that its decision to impose another state of public emergency (SOE) in St James is a knee-jerk reaction to the latest flare-up of crime in the north-western parish.

For the third time since the start of this year Prime Minister Andrew Holness has advised the governor general, based on the recommendations of the security forces, to declare an SOE in St James. But still the parish remains under the gun with 167 murders and 100 shootings between January 1 and November 6.

This is the highest number of violent crimes in the 19 police divisions across the island, although down on last year.

In seeking to justify the latest SOE, Holness told a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday that it is the assessment of the security forces that the situation in St James merits this response and the use of emergency powers.

According to Holness, the use of the SOE will provide more power to the security forces to deter, intervene, and intercept, and it will give some respite for detectives to be able to do their work by providing safety and security to the people.

“We have always said… this is not going to be a long-term measure, but as long as the problem is greater than our capacity, we will have to use it and we have been using it quite strategically,” said Holness.

Responding to a question from the Jamaica Observer, Holness argued that the Government had to respond to the recent flare-up of violence in the parish, which includes the fatal shooting of seven-year-old Justin Perry, nine-year-old Nahcoliva Smith, and 26-year-old Tevin Hayle in a taxi in Salt Spring, St James, on Monday.

“The fact that these things keep recurring is more so a testament to the nature of the beast that we tackle. It is also very clearly demonstrated that when we act, and we are not supported in action by the extension of the emergency powers to finally bring to heel the beast, then the problem continues,” said Holness.

“You will recall that in 2018 the murder rate in St James rose to levels that were far past countries that were at war. We instituted a state of public emergency with the support of the Opposition [People’s National Party], we had several extensions and we brought the murder rate down by over 300,” said Holness as he pointed out that the three SOEs in the parish so far this year were for 14 days because the Government did not have the support of the Opposition to extend them.

“We are faced with an existential threat by these terrorists, and so we need to rid ourselves of the illusion that somehow these criminals are going to find salvation in their hearts and mercy for the people.

“They are a threat to our national security, they are a threat to your safety, and we need to be persistent and consistent in the measures that we put in place. We need to rid ourselves of the ambivalence in the message that we are sending,” added Holness.

He argued that the Government has been responding and reacting to the threat of criminals in St James but cannot get the support of the Opposition to put in place the measures that are needed for the long term.

“We have put in place the laws. We can’t go any further than the courthouse. We have given the police all the resources that we can,” said Holness.

The prime minister was supported at the media briefing by Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, who defended the decision to request another SOE in St James as he noted that it has been one of the more violent parishes in the country, with organised and highly violent criminal gangs engaged in deadly conflicts.

“We have seen the data, we have demonstrated through previous states of emergency that this methodology has been very effective in quickly reducing violent crimes,” said Anderson.

“It is important to recall [that] when the emergencies powers were first brought into effect, St James reduction in killings was 70 per cent. We still have not, and will not, return to those days. An SOE at this time will allow us to optimise available resources, in particular the support from the JDF [Jamaica Defence Force],” added Anderson as he underscored that the SOE will complement the suite of police activities in the parish.

In the meantime, Acting Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Markland Lloyd told the media briefing that the JDF has increased security deployments to support the police in St James, with more than 11,000 such deployments since January.

“With the additional infusion of authority from the SOE, the joint forces may better concentrate enhanced initiatives on specific criminal activities that have emerged within the space,” said Lloyd.