The hunt is on

THE Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has put together a special team of investigators, led by a superintendent, to go after the masterminds behind the recent attacks on security guards at automated teller machines (ATMs).

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang says this is one of several immediate measures being implemented to stop the spate of attacks which has left one security guard dead, a number of others nursing gunshot wounds and more than $30 million in the hands of the criminals.

“We have raised the tempo by dedicating a team of highly skilled, experienced investigators to focus entirely on the operation,” Chang told a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

He reiterated his claim that the attacks are being carried out by organised and callous criminals who have joined forces to go after these high-cash targets.

“The main interest of the police is to find the perpetrators and prosecute them,” declared Chang.

“We have had some arrests in the last case in Portmore [Scotiabank branch] and we have very good intelligence on the latest one [Albion, St Thomas]. As indicated, we have established a specialised unit with members of the relevant formations…who are pursuing the perpetrators and we are confident we will disrupt their operations and capture them,” added Chang.

He told the media briefing that the attacks on cash management firms are being addressed as a matter of urgency by the Government.

“We will take the necessary steps to ensure that this service, that has such a direct impact on a wide cross section of the society, will operate efficiently and safely,” said the security minister.

Chang said he met with members of the JCF high command and representatives of the private security industry on Tuesday to discuss the Government’s strategic response to the attacks.

He is also set to meet with representatives of the banking sector to look at additional measures to strengthen cash management services across the island.

But even before that meeting, Chang said a number of measures will be implemented immediately. These include strengthened operational standards including specialised training and certification for security guards involved in cash transit management and the use of “hard skin” vehicles for cash delivery.

In addition, Chang told journalists that cash transfer vehicles are to be equipped with cameras to improve awareness, while the use of panic buttons on-board cash transfer vehicles, which are present on some of those already being used, will be increased.

He said there will also be a more robust communication between the private security companies and the JCF, for real-time support and response.

“We will continue to engage all stakeholders to ensure that minimum operating standards are established and adhered to at all venues where ATMs operate.

“We will do what it takes to protect the lives of the security guards and the assets of the hard-working Jamaicans who are impacted by the spate of attacks on the cash transit operations,” declared Chang.

With questions surfacing in the public space about why all the attacks so far have been on Beryllium crews, Chang pointed out that Beryllium is the only cash management operator in the country which manages huge sums of money for all the banks. He noted that the other security companies are involved in cash transfer.

Chang further pointed out that Beryllium makes some 4,000 stops at ATMs across the island each day and argued that it is impossible for the security forces to be present with the teams from the company at all times.

But the security minister accepted that the State has a responsibility to protect the assets and the people involved.

He said the Government intends to deal with this threat very seriously.

“That is why we have increased the level of attention in terms of getting the stakeholders together and examining what they are doing to see if they meet the standards from a security point of view and how we can add to that,” said Chang as he responded to questions about the embarrassment which the Government faced when scores of Jamaicans were unable to access cash on Monday because of unserviced ATMs.

“Yes, it was an unfortunate situation that took place and we have taken the necessary steps to prevent that type of thing from happening. It is a private business operation that provides a critical service to our country and when it is disrupted by criminal elements we have to take steps to manage that… The inconvenience to our public was most regrettable and we will take the necessary steps to ensure that it never happens again,” said Chang.