Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government has increased its efforts to stop the flow of illegal guns into the island through discussions with United States authorities who are also being asked to help target Jamaican gang bosses living in that country who are directing murders here.
Holness spoke of the cooperation between Kingston and Washington as he outlined his Administration’s strategy, including a two-week gun amnesty that ended Saturday night, to tackle spiralling crime in the country.
“There are several loopholes in our system which we will be closing. We have been engaging with our US counterparts in discussions on further measures that could be taken to stem the flow of illegal guns into Jamaica,” he told cheering, horn-blowing, and bell-ringing supporters at the 79th annual conference of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party inside the National Arena in St Andrew on Sunday.
He said that the discussions have focused on greater security measures at the island’s ports, including securing more scanners.
“I have put to our US friends the need to require greater identification for persons sending packages to Jamaica from the US. We will also be opening discussions with our US friends to have special operations to target Jamaican dons overseas who are using their resources and influence to solicit and direct murders here in Jamaica,” he said.
Those gang leaders, he said, have been able to get away with these activities for far too long, and pledged that, “We are going to ensure that they can no longer stay in another country and direct crime here”.
“Personally, I think it is a shame that someone who got the opportunity to migrate would use that opportunity to seek to make their community a living hell for the people they have left behind. Instead of sending back computers and assisting with school fees, they are sending guns and bullets to encourage you to kill your brothers and sisters. They mean us no good, they must be arrested and locked away for good. We will put a stop to this,” he said.
The prime minister stressed that it is not only criminals overseas who are remotely programming crime and murders locally, but also individuals incarcerated in Jamaica are conducting extortion operations and directing murders.
To counter that, he said the Government has designed a new high-security prison.
“It has been on the books for some time, but we just didn’t finalise the plans and the cost. I have given instruction that the high-security facility with communications dead spot be built as a project of strategic national interest,” he said.
Holness said high-risk criminals will be placed in that facility, where they will not be able to influence crime and murders outside.
He said, however, that technology can only guarantee security to a point, noting that if the people charged with guarding the convicts collaborate with them, then the problem will still exist.
“We have had issues of the personnel guarding our prisons cooperating with the criminals to give them phones and other communication devices,” he said.
That problem, he said, is being addressed by a new Corrections Bill that proposes stiffer custodial penalties for people who are charged with the responsibility of securing criminals and preventing them from having access to the outside world but are facilitating the convicts.
He called on all well-thinking Jamaicans to support the Government’s drive to seize illegal weapons and reiterated that lucrative rewards are being offered to people who provide information leading to the seizure of illegal firearms and the arrest of people responsible for them.
He noted that while the just-concluded gun amnesty, which accompanied the new Firearms Act, yielded up to 90 weapons and over 2,500 rounds of ammunition, “there are still thousands of illegal guns all across Jamaica”, which the police will be stepping up efforts to seize.
“The strategy of the police and the military will change. There are those who believe that we are only searching for firearms. Taking the firearm, discovering it without finding the person who brought it in or who is using it is not enough. We are going to be conducting searches, and we want to find the people who are importing, the people who are distributing, and the people who are shooting the firearms. We want to lock you up for good. The police are intensifying their search,” he said.
“We went out of our way to give the amnesty and to give warnings. They did not heed itâ€¦ Well, if yuh cyaa hear you will feel,” the prime minister added as the strains of Inner Circle’s Bad Boys pulsed through the speakers inside the arena.