13 gangs to face court next year, says top cop

Thirteen gangs are to be brought to trial next year under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act of 2014, commonly called the anti-gang legislation.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson made the disclosure at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. He said other criminal organisations are under the radar but the 13 gangs — some of which have between 23 and 25 members — are the ones which are now ready to stand trial.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), in a report to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament which is now reviewing the anti-gang legislation, said that 448 individuals have been charged for offences under the law since it took effect in April 2014, but only two convictions have been secured.

Commissioner Anderson stressed the significance of these multiple cases going to court. “Each case is going to strengthen the way we use the legislation going forward. It is important that we use this tool because the people who are on the periphery of it, whose actions significantly support the gang activities, usually the offences they commit are not as heinous or tangible except that they are facilitating the overall activity. Under the anti-gang legislation, they now become culpable for those.”

Tomorrow, the Joint Select Committee will continue deliberations with officials of the Ministry of National Security, the JCF, Columbus Communication Limited (FLOW), and Digicel Jamaica Limited, at an in-camera sitting.

At its last meeting on November 20, the committee agreed to invite the telecoms providers to join the discussions, as one of the proposals being put on the table by the police for the constabulary to be granted power to force suspects in organised crime investigations to give access to their mobile phones, and other electronic devices, without a court order.

Senior cops said the police need those powers because provisions under existing legislation, such as the Interception of Communications Act and the Cyber Crimes Act, are not suitable for dealing with organised crime.

They pointed to procedural delays under those laws, which could be detrimental to some investigations. The police say that currently, when a cellular phone is seized and it is locked with a password, the person from whom it is seized has no obligation to give the password to the police.

“The police will therefore have to send the cellular phone to the specialists at the Communication Forensics and Cybercrime Unit for them to unlock the phone and analyse same for evidence. This process takes time and can result in valuable leads being lost, which could have been acted upon if the police were able to access the phone from the time it was seized,” the submission outlined.

It is being proposed that refusing to grant the police access to these devices be made an offence. The cops also outlined challenges with requests to telecommunications service providers for data which is relevant to organised crime investigations.

The police are also asking for authority to detain suspects for a week, without charge, with the possibility of a seven-day extension by court order. The rationale is that investigators need sufficient time to interview suspects, verify leads and confirm intelligence before laying charges.

The police say they have encountered a number of challenges in enforcing the anti-gang law, and are hoping that the 15 amendments being proposed would strengthen their ability to fight organised crime.