Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday claimed that, but for Westmoreland, the states of emergency (SOEs) that were declared in seven police division across the island on Sunday have been having a “dampening effect” on crime.
Holness was in the parish hours after a police trainee, Constable Duvaughn Brown, was shot dead by gunmen Wednesday night. His was the third murder reported in the parish since Sunday’s declaration of the enhanced security measure.
His death has pushed the murder toll in the parish to a staggering 111 since the start of this year, 44 more than the 67 recorded over the same period last year.
Westmoreland, Hanover, and St James in the Area One Police Division are among the parishes where the seven SOEs were declared.
“Certainly, in the communities where the SOEs have been declared, in the parishes, police divisions, you would see a dampening effect, except in Westmoreland, and I am here in Westmoreland because this is now the epicentre,” Holness said during a tour of the parish.
Describing Constable Brown’s murder as gruesome, the prime minister sad he was in the parish “to get a view, first-hand, of the work of the security forces in supervising the state of public emergency here and ensuring that our citizens have the requisite level of security and safety that they deserve as citizens of the country”.
He attributed the spike in bloodletting in the western parish to rival factions carrying out tit-for-tat killings.
“The core of that epicentre is the gangs. There are several gangs in this region that appear to be at war with each other. They are brazen, they don’t seem to fear the law and they seem determined to exact revenge on each other, and in so doing innocent citizens are killed. So yes, we have had a dampening effect right across the island in the divisions and the parishes, except Westmoreland, where we have a problem that is over the capacity of regular policing,” Holness said.
He conceded that there is a need for more police boots on the ground in Westmoreland; however, he argued that the current complement of cops would have been sufficient had it not been for spiralling criminality.
“While I agree that there is a shortage [of police personnel], the shortage is because of the level of crime and violence. In other words, the normal manpower distribution for this area would be quite appropriate were the level of crime and violence lower. The truth is that the level of crime and violence, particularly in the community in which we are, is over and above the capacity of regular policing,” the prime minister insisted.
“I make the point, there are communities across Jamaica where there are no police in them. Many, the majority of communities, probably only see a patrol once or twice a week and there is no crime, there is no issue. People can live together without crime and there are many communities in Jamaica [where] they do that. The challenge we have [is that] there are some communities where crime and violence is elevated over and above the capacity and require more resources,” he said.
Addressing criticism, mostly from his political opponents, that the police and soldiers can be deployed together without the declaration of SOEs, Holness said, “People will say ‘well, you can deploy the police and the military generally’. The difference with the SOE is that the military is also able to deploy on its own. The military operates on a different tempo than the police and so their deployment can be more intense and more long-term, and that gives us a multiplying effect of the security forces. And so we use the SOEs for that reason as well when we need more resources to be injected into an area.”
The prime minister noted that his mission in Westmoreland was also to see how the return of face-to-face classes was proceeding in some schools “and to get a sense of the vaccination drive in schools generally”.